La Liga is set to return to action on June 11 with 110 games left to play. Here’s a refresher to bring you up to speed with the state of play in Spain’s top flight…
The title race
While the suspension of La Liga due to the COVID-19 pandemic was unprecedented, the title race is a familiar tale.
Two points divide Clasico powerhouses Barcelona and Real Madrid, with the Catalans in pole position. Sevilla are nine points adrift of Real in third spot.
The animated season table below shows how the two clubs have led the pack and gone neck and neck since early November, with Real leading the way for most of February.
The two sides ran out a goalless draw when they met in December at the Nou Camp but Zinedine Zidane’s men claimed bragging rights with a 2-0 win in the return fixture in March, thanks to goals from wonderkid Vinicius Junior and Mariano – two weeks before the league was suspended.
Barca had terminated Ernesto Valverde’s contract in January after two-and-a-half years in charge – despite topping La Liga at the time – following a 2-2 draw with struggling neighbours Espanyol and a 3-2 defeat to Atletico in the Super Cup – with Quique Setien taking the hot seat.
While the title race is tight, Barcelona’s league-topping haul of 58 points is the lowest tally after 27 games since 2006/07, suggesting the top two clubs’ dominance has waned.
Centre-back Clement Lenglet has become a regular in the first team since his £31.7m from Sevilla two years ago.
Sergio Busquets is still running the show in central midfield, typically flanked by defence-minded Frenkie de Jong and Arthur – both being only 23 years old.
The forward line remains familiar, with Luis Suarez leading and the omnipresent Lionel Messi occupying the right flank, while France international Antoine Griezmann has become a mainstay down the left after Barca controversially triggered his £108m buy-out clause at Atletico last year.
Ousmane Dembele is among a raft of expensive youngsters signed in recent times but has suffered with hamstring injuries this term. Meanwhile, former Liverpool midfielder Philippe Coutinho sought pastures new with a loan move to Bayern Munich.
Real have raided two of Chelsea’s key players over the past two years in goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and Eden Hazard – but the latter has managed only 10 league appearances since his big-money move last summer due to injuries.
Rampaging left-back Marcelo, now 32 years old, has also struggled with fitness this season, resulting in 24-year-old Ferland Mendy racking up 16 league appearances since his £41m summer move from Lyon. Meanwhile, centre-back Eder Militao is emerging as a promising talent to cover Raphael Varane and veteran captain Sergio Ramos.
After Ronaldo’s departure, and with Hazard frequently sidelined, Madrid have relied on Karim Benzema’s goals up top. But youngsters Rodrygo and Vinicius Junior wait in the wings.
Gareth Bale has started only 11 league games after yet another campaign blighted with injuries. Luka Jovic signed for big money from Eintracht Frankfurt last year but has achieved little game time, while James Rodriguez appears in career limbo after an unsuccessful loan spell at Bayern preceded ongoing injury problems and sporadic appearances in La Liga this term.
The race for Europe
The race for Champions League qualification remains wide open, with just five points dividing Sevilla in third and seventh-placed Valencia.
Perhaps the biggest story within that chasing group is Getafe, who currently sit in fifth – level with fourth-placed Real Sociedad and one point clear of Atletico – having sustained top-half finishes since returning to La Liga after one season in the second tier in 2016/17.
That window of opportunity is even greater for teams eyeing a Europa League place, with Villarreal, Granada and Athletic Bilbao among the remaining top-half clubs to have a realistic chance of qualification.
In terms of relegation, Espanyol and Leganes have spent the majority of this season in the drop zone but are still, at most, only six points shy of safety.
Indeed, former Southampton boss Mauricio Pellegrino resigned from his post at Leganes in November with the club rock bottom in the table.
Meanwhile, Mallorca – who were promoted last season – and Celta Vigo have been in a season-long tussle to escape the remaining relegation place – with Eibar and Real Valladolid in the mix.
If Barca and Real dominating the league comes as no surprise, nor will Lionel Messi topping the goal and assist charts.
The Argentine was sidelined with a foot injury for the opening four league games and it was no coincidence the club managed only two wins from those fixtures.
But Messi wasted no time upon his return with eight goals in his first six starts. A four-goal haul in a 5-0 win over Eibar in February epitomised the 32-year-old’s sheer brilliance.
Such is Messi’s level, the Sky Sports Power Rankings – which awards points to players for matchday stats – suggests his contribution this term is twice that of his closest-ranked team-mate Luis Suarez and almost any other player in the league.
While many familiar players populate the top 10 above, Newcastle fans will have spotted two former players among the elite in Real Sociedad midfielder Mikel Moreno and Alaves forward Joselu.
Meanwhile, former Arsenal favourite Santi Cazorla is enjoying a swansong of form at 35 years old after spending years on the sidelines through injury in London, having been involved in 14 league goals with boyhood club Villarreal this term.
Another former Gunner and West Ham striker Lucas Perez has also hit the ground running with 11 goals and five assists, teaming up with Merino at Alaves.
So it’s all left to play for as the league prepares to resume on June 11 and we leave you with each club’s 11 fixtures left to play…
First Published on Sky Sports