La Liga is expected to return in June after a break of over two months due to the coronavirus pandemic with champions Barcelona still the team to beat in Spain’s top flight. The Catalan giants lead the table by two points from Real Madrid with 11 games left to play despite having endured a rollercoaster season both on and off the pitch.
Previous boss Ernesto Valverde was sacked in January, captain Lionel Messi has clashed with the board, the club has been forced to deny they hired a firm to attack their own players on social media and six directors have resigned in protest at the way the club is being run. On the pitch, Barca have already suffered more league defeats than in the whole of last season.
Bitter rivals Real Madrid are in second place and would love nothing more than to pile more misery on Barca by pipping them to the title, while the race for Champions League places promises plenty of excitement. Just five points separate Sevilla in third from Valencia down in seventh.
At the bottom of the table Espanyol, Leganes and Real Mallorca currently occupy the bottom three places and are favorites for relegation. However, Celta Vigo, Eibar and Real Valladolid aren’t quite safe yet and will be looking nervously over their shoulders.
1. Suarez Back To Boost Barcelona
Luis Suarez’s 2019-20 campaign looked to be all but over in January when the Barcelona striker underwent knee surgery and was ruled out of action for four months.
The 33-year-old has had his critics this season but there was no arguing with his goalscoring record. He banged in 14 goals in 23 appearances for Barcelona in all competitions before going under the knife.
Unsurprisingly, Suarez has been missed while he’s been out of action, particularly by captain and close friend Lionel Messi. The Argentinian remains the club’s inspiration but has looked a little lost at times without his strike partner.
Barcelona have certainly lacked spark in their attack without Suarez. Antoine Griezmann has only scored once in La Liga in 2020, emergency signing Martin Braithwaite is yet to open his account for his new club and Ousmane Dembele added to the club’s injury problems by suffering a torn hamstring in February that ruled him out for six months.
Suarez’s return will provide Barcelona with a timely boost when the competition resumes. Assistant coach Eder Sarabia has said he is “drooling” at the prospect of the Uruguay international’s return and feels like Suarez will be like a new signing for Barcelona.
Suarez may just have a point to prove on his return to action too. Barcelona continue to be linked with a summer move for Inter Milan striker Lautaro Martinez. The Argentinian is reportedly viewed as Suarez’s long-term replacement at the Camp Nou.
2. Real Madrid To Take Title Race To The Wire
The title race looks set to go right down to the final day with Barcelona and Real Madrid neck-and-neck at the top. Los Blancos’ Clasico win in February saw them knock Barca off top spot, but they were quickly leapfrogged again when they lost at Real Betis before La Liga was suspended.
Both teams have shown their flaws this season which suggests they will drop points again. Barcelona continue to look vulnerable away from home, while Real Madrid have dropped too many points to teams in the bottom half.
Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane should also be able to welcome back summer signing Eden Hazard for the run-in. The Belgium international has seen his debut campaign interrupted by injury and needed ankle surgery in March but is expected to be fit in time.
Belgium national team coach Roberto Martinez has backed Hazard to ‘return stronger’ from his latest injury, and Real Madrid and Hazard need a big finish if they are to clinch the league for the first time since 2017.
3. Surprise Package Getafe to Secure UCL Spot?
There is no doubt Getafe have been the surprise package of La Liga in 2019-20 and have put themselves in a great position to qualify for the Champions League for the first time in their history.
Los Azulones were in fifth place when La Liga was suspended, level on points with Real Sociedad in fourth and just one behind Sevilla in third.
Jose Bordalas’s side suffered heartbreak last season when they missed out on the top four by two points but that experience should increase their motivation to succeed this time around.
Getafe may not be the most attractive side to watch, indeed Barcelona midfielder Frenkie de Jong said in February they “do not play to entertain the fans,” but there’s no denying they are effective. Just ask last season’s Champions League semi-finalists Ajax who they dumped out of the Europa League in March.
Bordalas has built an efficient unit led by attackers Jorge Molina, Jaime Mata and Angel Rodriguez. The trio have scored 23 of the team’s 37 La Liga goals.
Securing Champions League football would be a huge achievement for the underdogs from Madrid, particularly considering they were in 20th place in the Segunda Division when Bordalas took charge in 2016.
4. Atletico Madrid Facing Top-Four Battle
Atletico Madrid were busy dumping European champions Liverpool out of the Champions League right before football was put on hold but may face a battle to qualify for next season’s competition through their league position.
Diego Simeone’s side will restart in sixth place after a disappointing campaign that started so promisingly. Los Rojiblancos broke their club record to sign highly-rated Joao Felix for $142 million last summer, signed Alvaro Morata from Chelsea permanently but then struggled to score goals and have only netted 31 in 27 league games.
An improvement is needed and quickly that’s for sure, but despite the lengthy break their memorable 3-2 win at Anfield should provide a boost going forward. New-boy Felix also offered hope he’s starting to settle with two goals and an assist in his last four matches.
5. Espanyol Need A Miracle to Survive
Espanyol’s long stay in Spain’s top flight looks to be over bar the shouting. The Catalans are facing relegation from La Liga for the first time in 25 years and return to action three points adrift at the bottom of the table.
It’s been a traumatic season for the club who finished seventh last season and qualified for the Europa League. Manager Rubi left in the summer for Real Betis, his replacement David Gallego was fired in October after just one win in eight league games, and his replacement Pablo Machin was gone by December.
Enter Abelardo, Espanyol’s third coach of 2019-20, who has fared marginally better. The club have beaten Villarreal and Mallorca and taken points off Barcelona, Athletic, Sevilla and Atletico under the former defender.
Yet the Periquitos still have it all to do to escape the drop and have a tough-looking run-in. Espanyol must still face Getafe, Real Madrid, Real Sociedad, Barcelona and Valencia and simply can’t afford to drop many more points if they are to survive.