La Liga: How things stand ahead of Thursday’s return

La Liga returns on Thursday night with the title race, European places and the battle to avoid relegation all to be decided.

Matthew Crist

Following the successful return of Bundesliga, now it’s top-flight Spanish football making a comeback as Sevilla host Real Betis in the first La Liga game since the Covid-19 outbreak brought everything to a halt 12-weeks ago.

Leaders Barcelona resume at Real Mallorca on Saturday, while second-placed Real Madrid face Eibar at the Santiago Bernabeu on Sunday and although games will be played without fans, a host of compelling storylines will ensure a dramatic conclusion to the campaign at both ends of the table.

The last game played in La Liga was on March 10th, meaning we’ve been starved of one of the most popular leagues in the world for exactly three months.

So to refresh your memory, should you have forgotten just how exciting things had become before the Coronavirus curtain came down on proceedings, here’s a quick recap of how things stand.

The title race

Eden Hazard Real Madrid La Liga

A tight title race is in store, with Barcelona just two points ahead of Real Madrid – though neither team really convinced prior to the temporary suspension back in March.

Barca have struggled somewhat away from home, dropping points on 11 occasions on their travels and leaving the door somewhat open for their rivals to capitalise.

Their cause hasn’t been helped by the fact that coach Quique Setien has had to work with a threadbare squad containing only 18 senior professionals with With Clement Lenglet suspended and Samuel Umtiti returning from injury, while speculation over the future of Arthur, Ivan Rakitic and Arturo Vidal will hardly help their cause ahead of a hectic schedule.

Their strength, of course, lies at the feet (and head) of Lionel Messi, who is once again the league’s leading scorer with19 goals in 22 appearances, and a huge bonus is the return of Luis Suarez, who was set to miss the remainder of the season with a knee injury before the pause in action allowed him to recover.

Real had lost three of their four games before the interruption and, although their overall play has generally been more convincing than Barcelona’s, their lack of firepower could cost a title that, at one point, looked like their’s for the taking.

Other than Karim Benzema, who netted 12 of his 14 league goals before January, Real’s seven forwards – including Hazard, Gareth Bale and Luka Jovic – have scored a measly 12 league goals between them all season.

One potentially significant factor could be Real’s temporary move away from the Bernabeu, which is undergoing reconstruction work. Instead, Zidane’s men will play their home matches at the 6,000 capacity Alfredo di Stefano Stadium, located within the club’s training complex

Top Four race

The race for Champions League qualification is extremely close, with five teams separated by just five points as the action begins once again.

Currently occupying third spot are Sevilla, who host city rivals Real Betis in the big derby game on Thursday, but two highly contrasting teams are in hot pursuit, ready to pounce should they slip-up.

Sevilla boast the second-best away record in the Spanish top-flight, picking up 24 points on their travels, but their record in front of their fans is nowhere near as impressive, so playing behind closed doors might just ease that pressure as they look to pull away from their nearest challengers.

Real Sociedad boast one of the most exciting young sides in Europe, with classy playmaker Martin Odegaard supported by midfielder Mikel Merino, winger Mikel Oyarzabal and Swedish striker Alexander Isak and sit just a point behind third-place (on 46 points) and would currently make it into the Champions League places as things stand

Getafe are also handily placed in fifth (1 point off third) and though they might not be as easy-on-the-eye, they are just as effective, while the chasing pack is completed by Valencia and Atletico Madrid, who will be boosted by their extraordinary Champions League triumph at Anfield.

Relegation Battle

La Liga

The big storyline at the bottom of La Liga is whether Espanyol can escape the drop as they face the very real prospect of being relegated from the top-flight for the first time since 1993.

The Barcelona-based club have spent 85 of La Liga’s 89 seasons in the top flight, but they are currently three points from safety and on their third manager of the season (former Barca defender Abelardo) after winning just four games out of 27 so far this season.

If Espanyol can perform a miracle and claw-back the deficit, then five other teams are in danger, especially 19th-placed Leganes who are on 23 points as it stands.

Slightly ahead of them are 18th-place Mallorca on 25 points while in 17th-place are Celta Vigo, a club that has plenty of talent but flirts with relegation far too often.

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