La Liga preview – Barca and Madrid set to battle for title

The Seville derby restarts proceedings in La Liga on Thursday evening, June 11, when Sevilla host Real Betis at the Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan after the three-month enforced break.

This attractive fixture will kickstart the Spanish season and with 11 gameweeks remaining, it is hoped the season will be completed on the week ending July 19, all going well.

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This will mean midweek fixtures, a short turnaround for squads and management, an intense schedule for those directly involved but for armchair fans the world over, it will be another positive step as we head towards our ‘new normal.’

Everything is still very much up for grabs in Spain, the destination of the title, the Champions League spots and the fight to avoid relegation, all these mini battles within the league are nowhere near resolved and so that ensures compelling viewing over the next month or so.

Let’s take a deeper look at some of these strands which will be played out in front of us over the next month.

Barcelona or Real Madrid?

The title race looks pretty much like a straight shootout between Barcelona and Real Madrid. Quique Setien’s side lead the way on 58 points, two clear of their Bernabeau based rivals.

Sevilla in third are a further nine points behind Los Blancos and so it would seem are too far adrift to mount a challenge for top place.

The run in for Barcelona begins away at Mallorca who are currently third from bottom and so will be scrapping for their lives, not an easy start for the Catalan side.

Zindine Zidane’s side are at home to Eibar on Sunday evening in what looks a more appealing fixture to easy your way back into things.

Real Madrid have been excellent defensively this campaign, conceding just 19 times.

Key players have been Thibaut Courtois in goal, Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos at the heart of the defence, Casemiro and Toni Kroos have been given an extra spark in midfield with the injection of energy and athleticism from Uruguayan Fede Valverde, while up front Karim Benzema has carried the scoring threat, netting 14 times in the league.

Barcelona have scored 63 times, 14 more than their main challengers, yet have conceded 31 times, 12 more than Zidane’s men.

It is still unclear who is the best fit to play centre back beside Gerard Pique, Clement Lenglet and Samuel Umtiti are both vying for the same position and neither have been wholly convincing up to this point.

Sergio Busquets is still patrolling things at the base of midfield, perhaps not to the same level as in previous Barca vintages, but around him things have been a little disjointed this season.

Frenkie de Jong has been finding his feet in his first season at the Nou Camp. Ivan Rakitic has only started ten games in the league, the Brazilian Arthur has been favoured more often than the Croatian.

Arturo Vidal has scored six times in the league and his forceful influence has offered an alternative when needed this season.

While the layoff has been a frustration for most, it has been a huge boost for players looking to recuperate from injury.

One such player is Luis Suarez who has been back in full training with his teammates for the last couple of weeks.

Game time between Lionel Messi, Suarez and Antoine Griezmann has been limited this season because of injury, that being said the three have accounted for 38 of Barcelona’s 63 goals, Messi top scoring with 19.

Will Real Madrid’s solid defensive platform and strength in the middle third be enough to see them home to take their first league crown since 2017 or will Barcelona’s firepower up top lead them to three in a row? Time will tell.

Champions League places

Two points is all that separates Sevilla in third place on 47 points and Atletico Madrid in sixth position and so realistically there are four sides vying for the two remaining Champions League places.

Sevilla will look to Jorge Ocampos and Luuk de Jong to provide the goals, a commodity which have been hard to come by at times this season for Julien Lopetegui’s side.

Real Sociedad are currently in fourth place level on points with Getafe but are ahead on goals scored.

The Basque side have been a great watch this campaign, Real Madrid loanee Martin Odegaard, Portu, Willian José, Swedish youngster Alexander Isak and Mikel Oyarzabal in particular have all contributed in attack, meaning Imanol Algucil’s side are third highest scorers on 45 goals.

José Bordalas’s Getafe side are definitely in the mix for one of the Champions League positions after just missing out last season on a place in the competition.

Angel Rodriguez, Jaime Mata and Jorge Molina have scored 23 of the South Madrid based sides 37 league goals and will hope to maintain their goalscoring exploits if Los Azulones are to maintain their challenge for a third or fourth place finish.

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Atletico Madrid are a further point behind in sixth place on 45 points. Diego Simeone’s side have again been solid in defence as is customary for the Wanda Metropolitano based side.

Brazilian centre back Felipe has been a strong addition to the defence after Diego Godin moved on to Inter Milan last summer.

Kieran Trippier has had an impressive first season at right back. Further forward, Marcos Llorente is a player who could have a bigger influence in midfield, particularly after his two goals against Liverpool sent Atletico through to the quarter finals of the Champions League back in March.

Simeone will be hoping for more of a return from João Felix between now and the end of the campaign both domestically and in the Champions League.

Four goals and an assist in La Liga from the 20 year old Portugal international who was signed for €126 million but, at still a very young age, perhaps it’s unrealistic to think such a youthful player could hit the ground running in a new league while also playing for a defensive minded coach in Simeone.

Atletico are perhaps best placed to push on and climb the table if the attacking players such as the aforementioned Felix, Diego Costa, Angel Correa and Alvaro Morata can start scoring regularly in the remaining games of the season.

Fighting for survival

Nine points separate Espanyol in last place and Real Valladolid in 15th position.

Leganes are second from bottom, three points ahead of Espanyol while Mallorca make up the last of the relegation placed teams on 25 points. Celta Vigo, Eibar and Real Valladolid will also be looking over their shoulder as the fight to avoid the drop may, as is the case in most leagues, be even more intriguing than the race for the title itself.

Espanyol invested heavily in the Winter transfer window, with Raul de Tomas scoring four times since arriving from Benfica in January.

Leandro Cabrera was also brought in from Getafe to strengthen the defence and the Uruguayan has been an effective addition, as the Barcelona based side look to climb away from the foot of the table.

Abelardo Fernández’s side host Alaves on Saturday in a game they are surely earmarking as a must win fixture.

Leganes lost Martin Braithwaite to Barcelona and before that Youssef En-Nesyri to Sevilla in January, two forwards who had provided a goal threat for Javier Aguirre’s side.

Despite this, Leganes have only lost twice in their last six league games and have Real Valladolid at home at the weekend to kickstart their bid to maintain top level status.

Oscar Rodriguez is leading goalscorer with seven goals for the Madrid based side.

Mallorca had a big win away to Eibar in their last game before the shutdown but still remain in the bottom three.

While Croatian striker Ante Budimir and Dani Rodriguez have shared 14 of Vicente Moreno’s sides 28 league goals, it is in defence where Mallorca have struggled, conceding 44 times, only Espanyol are worse off on 46.

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Celta Vigo, after spending the majority of the season in the bottom three are a point clear of danger and will hope to put more distance between themselves and the drop when they host Villarreal on Saturday.

The Galicians only lost once in their previous six fixtures and with local legend Iago Aspas leading the scoring charts on nine goals, they will hope to push on over the coming weeks.

Eibar in 16th position have Real Madrid away on Sunday in what looks like a tough fixture to recommence, while Real Valladolid go to Butarque to face Leganes, no stroll in the park either.

While Espanyol, Leganes, Mallorca and Celta Vigo have been slogging it out at the bottom all season, Eibar and Real Valladolid could easily be dragged into the relegation conversation if either or both struggle over the next couple of weeks.

So, as we strap ourselves in for a month of La Liga action to conclude the 2019/20 season, three questions need answering.

Barcelona or Real Madrid to win the Championship outright, what two clubs will join them in the Champions League and what three clubs are heading to the Segunda Division?

The beauty of the remaining La Liga season which kicks back into action this week, is that none of the three questions can be answered with genuine certainty.

The Author

John Dillon

Twitter handle @dillo10

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