Prior to the suspension of football leagues around the world as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the battle at the top of La Liga was hotting up. Old foes Barcelona and Real Madrid occupy first and second respectively, and Barça currently hold a two-point advantage over their rivals with 11 matches left to play. The race for the title in Spain in certainly more exciting than in Germany, with Bayern Munich dominating at the top since the Bundesliga got back underway; while the English Premier League also returns soon, with Liverpool close to securing the title, as 25 points separate them and Manchester City.
But back to Spain, and despite their slender advantage, bookmakers have the Catalans as the slight favourites to secure the title, if you’re looking at odds on the Spanish La Liga. It will be the reigning champions that could strengthen their lead at the top as they travel to Mallorca on Saturday 13th June for the day’s late kick-off, before Real Madrid host Eibar in the second of three games on the Sunday. Of course, as we’ve seen across the continent, games are being played behind closed doors, meaning home advantage will no longer be taken into consideration.
This could either favour, or go against Los Blancos, whose President Florentino Perez has confirmed that they will be playing their remaining La Liga matches at their training ground and home to their reserve team, Real Madrid Castilla – the Alfredo Di Stefano Stadium – as opposed to their spiritual home, the Santiago Bernabéu. In a letter penned to the Madridistas, Perez wrote: “We have made the decision to play in the Alfredo Di Stefano stadium in our Ciudad Real Madrid all the games in which we will play as the home team,” before continuing, “This decision will allow us to advance in the works of the Santiago Bernabéu stadium.”
It’s been a turbulent title race so far, with the two giants of La Liga switching places at multiple points in the season. After a bad start to the campaign, it was on matchday nine that Barça took top spot, after Madrid lost 1-0 to Mallorca, and ultimately fell to second place. The Catalans managed to hold their lead at the top for two months, before losing to Valencia, which handed Zinedine Zidane’s side the ascendancy. It’s been very much to-and-fro, or cat-and-mouse since then.
After a shock defeat to Levante at the end of February, Madrid once again were ousted at the top of the table – and faced their bitter rivals in their next game, the penultimate match before the league was suspended. A 2-0 win in front of their passionate supporters saw them leapfrog Barça at the summit, but their inconsistent run of form saw them lose their most recent game away to Real Betis, and consequently, Barça capitalised.
Both teams have been far from perfect this season, with problems both on and off the pitch – and it will be interesting to see how the three-month break has affected both sides. There’s no doubt that there will be twists and turns to come, even with 11 games remaining. The latest Spanish La Liga tips suggest that the ascendancy is with Barcelona. Even if Real were to fail to drop a single point in their remaining fixtures, their slender advantage means that the Catalans could afford to draw one of their games. Of course, it’s not that easy and there have been plenty of slip-ups throughout the season for both sides – and no doubt, more to come.
Barça’s run-in isn’t simple – they have to travel to third-placed Sevilla, while Diego Simone’s Atlético Madrid come to town. Meanwhile, Los Blancos face a trip to surprise outfit Real Sociedad, who currently sit in fourth, and host Valencia, who they scored a 96th minute equaliser against in the reverse fixture earlier this term. Will Quique Setién’s side be able to stave off the title challenge? La Liga is back and it’s sure to be exciting.