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The return of La Liga: What's at stake?

Sunday May 31 2020
messi_pix

Barcelona's Argentine forward Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring during their Spanish league match against SD Eibar at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on February 22, 2020. PHOTO | JOSEP LAGO | AFP

By AFP

MADRID

La Liga resumes on June 11 after a three-month absence due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Real Madrid and Barcelona have been unable to pull away from each other at the top of the table while Atletico Madrid are involved in what looks like a four-way fight for Champions League qualification.

AFP Sport takes a look at some key issues ahead of the run-in.

When Real Madrid beat Barcelona 2-0 at the Santiago Bernabeu on March 1, it seemed they had halted a dip in form and seized control of the title race.

But a week later, they handed the initiative back as Barca regained first place by beating Real Sociedad and Madrid lost away at Real Betis.

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A three-month break means a fresh start but Barcelona's two-point lead reflects badly on their challengers, given Barca's own problems off the pitch, including the switch to Quique Setien as coach in January.

Both sides' imperfections mean there will be more slip-ups to come but if this Barca make it five league titles in six years, Madrid will only have themselves to blame.

Real Madrid have been given permission by La Liga to play their remaining home games at the Alfredo di Stefano Stadium at their training ground to allow planned construction work to go ahead at the Santiago Bernabeu this summer.

With games being held behind closed doors there would have been little advantage to playing at their usual home and the players might even be better off avoiding an empty 81,000-seater stadium that they are used to being almost full.

Neither Eden Hazard nor Luis Suarez expected to play much, or perhaps any, part in the run-in after Hazard underwent surgery on a broken foot in March and Suarez had an operation on his right knee in January.

The break has allowed both players to recover and the question now is whether either can find peak form and fitness in time to make an impact in the remaining 11 games.

Suarez's return could be particularly helpful for Barcelona but Setien has said the Uruguayan, who has often taken time to regain sharpness, is not yet ready.

Real Madrid's Hazard, plagued by injuries in recent months, has had a nightmare first year in Spain but has an unexpected chance to turn things around.

Atletico Madrid's momentous win over Liverpool in the Champions League offered Diego Simeone some relief after what has been a disappointing season in La Liga.

His team sit sixth in the table, having long fallen out of the reckoning for the title and facing a fight even to make the top four.

Ahead of them between fifth and third are Getafe, Real Sociedad and Sevilla, and with only two points between the four, Atletico could still scrape in.

But the resilient Getafe and free-flowing Real will both be eager to finish off brilliant campaigns while Sevilla appeared to be hitting their stride before games were suspended.

Atletico cannot afford to be complacent.

At the other end of the table, Espanyol look doomed, sitting in last place, six points adrift of safety.

Leganes, who still have to play away at Barcelona before hosting Real Madrid on the final day, are only three points better off.

One point then separates Mallorca, Celta Vigo and Eibar, whose players have expressed concerns about the safety of football returning too quickly.

Real Valladolid in 15th have a four-point cushion over the bottom three but two wins in their last 10 games suggests they could easily be pulled in too.

The economic hit from the coronavirus pandemic means the stakes are even higher for these clubs, as they battle to avoid the considerable financial blow of relegation. For all of them, the pressure is on.

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