La Liga return: Four storylines to watch in Spanish league, including Barca-Real Madrid title fight

La Liga is returning this week after a three-month break, and nothing has been decided in the Spanish league with 11 games to go for each team. So much is still left to play for as clubs aim to shake off any rust off of the hiatus. La Liga action returns Thursday with Real Betis vs. Sevilla, and there’s a full schedule of games this weekend.

So what should you keep your eyes on with the beautiful game returning in Spain? Here are four storylines to watch for the remainder of the season.

1. Title race: Real Madrid vs. Barcelona

It’s a two-horse race as usual in Spain with Barcelona leading Real Madrid by two points atop the table. It’s neck and neck down the stretch with the two teams not meeting again for the rest of the season (unless it is in the Champions League). While Barcelona has the advantage, don’t count Real out. Real beat Barca in March and drew Lionel Messi’s side in December, meaning Real has the head-to-head advantage. If they were to finish the season level on points, Real would win the title due to that tiebreaker. 

2. Top-four race

This is one of the most crowded top-four races in recent memory for La Liga. You have five teams within five points, all fighting for two spots for the 2020-21 Champions League season. If the season were to end today, Sevilla and Real Sociedad would be in the Champions League. But not far behind them are two big names in Atletico Madrid and Valencia. Surprising Getafe, meanwhile, is continuing its fine ascension under Jose Bordalas. Keep an eye on Atleti and Valencia, with both having favorable schedules the rest of the way.

Here’s a look at how the standings look entering the season restart:

3. Sevilla, 47 points
4. Real Sociedad, 46 points
5. Getafe, 46 points
6. Atletico Madrid, 45 points
7. Valencia, 42 points

3. Relegation battle

In Germany’s Bundesliga, Paderborn’s relegation seems certain. But every team can still earn safety in Spain. Espanyol is last with 20 points, but the club is just six points back of safety. Slightly ahead of Espanyol are 19th-place Leganes and 18th-place Mallorca, who are very much within striking distance of survival. The most interesting story is 17th-place Celta Vigo, a club that has talent but flirts with relegation far too often. The team lost striker Maxi Gomez before the season as he departed for Valencia. The replacement in a swap deal was Santi Mina, who hasn’t been healthy. It will be up to club legend Iago Aspas to find the goals to keep Celta Vigo afloat. 

Here’s how the relegation battle looks:

15. Real Valladolid, 29 points
16. Eibar, 27 points
17. Celta Vigo, 26 points
18. Mallorca, 25 points
19. Leganes, 23 points
20. Espanyol, 20 points 

4. Beat the heat

The biggest concern in Spain with La Liga returning, outside of the coronavirus, is the heat. We’ve seen the league in the past essentially play quarters, taking a break in each half for water. That will be the case on many occasions for the remainder of the club season. On top of that, the league has pushed for early and late kickoff times, opting to avoid playing games during the hottest part of the day as much as possible. Most games will take place around 6:30 p.m. local time and some as late as 10 p.m. 

Teams will be allowed to make five subs for the rest of the season, which will also help keep people hydrated and fresh. This will test the fitness of the players, and here’s hoping the heat isn’t too impactful. 

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