Real Madrid | Barcelona Likely to go down to the wire
In approximately three weeks’ time,LaLiga Santanderis expected to return and that will allow the fight betweenReal MadridandBarcelonato resume, with the Catalans currently having a two-point advantage at the top of the table.
What will be interesting in these final 11 matchdays are the handful of elements that have never been present before due to the coronavirus-enforced stoppage of football, and these will be key in determining the direction of the title.
BothZinedine ZidaneandQuique Setienwere going through difficult spells prior to the break.
The Frenchman’s situation was getting ever worse, afterReal Madridlost top spot on the final weekend before the stoppage due to a defeat away toReal Betis.
That meantLos Merengueshad picked up just four points from their last four leagues games, which included a win againstBarcelonain theClasico, an unconvincing draw at home toCelta Vigoand defeats toLevanteandBetis.
In the meantime,Real Madridfell to a 2-1 home defeat toManchester Cityin the first leg of their last-16 tie, butPep Guardiola‘s side could have scored more.
Barcelonawere no doubt in a better position before the break, having recorded three wins and one defeat (in theClasico) in their last four league games.
In addition, theBlaugranadrew 1-1 away toNapoliin the last 16 of theChampions League, although they were not convincing and that causedSetiento receive some criticism.
This break has allowedSetiento mull things over, to have more time with the squad and to make his style of play clear.
ZidaneandSetienare playing for much more than theLaLiga Santandertitle. Their future is also at stake.
Real Madridand Barcelona will welcome back some key players that they had practically lost for the decisive stretch of the season.
Los BlancoshaveEden HazardandMarco Asensiowho will give another dimension to their attack, whileZidanewill now be able to form the trident he dreamt of in pre-season:Asensio,Karim BenzemaandHazard.
Barcelona, meanwhile, will haveLuis Suarezavailable after having surgery on his knee, andOusmane Dembeleis also a possibility, although his return is not as likely.
Real MadridandBarcelonawill both be without the atmosphere created by their home support.
In fact,Los Blancoswill not even play at theEstadio Santiago Bernabeuas they will dispute their games at theEstadio Alfredo Di Stefanodue to the fact they are using this period to allow construction work to take place at their famous stadium.
Unlike last season,Real Madridhave made theBernabeua fortress again as they did not lose there inLaLiga Santander, although they did draw four games againstReal Valladolid,Athletic Club,BetisandCelta.
Barcelonawere much more solid in terms of results in front of their fans.
LikeReal Madrid, they have not lost at theCamp NouinLaLiga Santanderthis season, although unlikeLos Merenguesthey have only drawn one match, which came in the firstClasicoof the season.
Despite all of the preparations that are taking place, it is clear that injuries and possible infections will play a decisive role.
In the upcoming express league format, with many games in a short amount of time, any injury could see a player be out of action for the final sprint towards the title.
Especially dangerous will be muscle injuries. Apart from this, there is the issue of infection from coronavirus, which would force the player to immediately stop playing and go into quarantine.
Real Madridhave been hit particularly hard by injuries this season, with 20 players having missed time while there has been a total of 41 injuries.
In fact, before returning to training,Zidanehad already lostLuka JovicandMariano Diazto injury.
AtBarcelona, 18 players have had a total of 34 injuries this season.
LikeZidane,SetienlostSamuel Umtitiearly on due to muscular problems.
On the horizon ofLaLiga Santander‘s restart is the timetable that remains for both teams in their fight for the title.
Real Madridhave more home matches than away (6-5) andBarcelonahave the opposite (5-6).
This home advantage for Los Merengues isn’t what it would have been, though, due to the fact games will be played behind closed doors.
Real Madridstart with two matches at home, and they will have four difficult encounters before the end of the campaign:Valencia(home),Real Sociedad(away),Getafe(home) andAthletic Club(away). They end the season away toLeganes.
Barcelonawill have to play more games away than at home, which has precisely been their Achilles heel this season.
While they have drawn just one game at home,Los Culeshave lost five matches and had three draws away from theCamp Nou.
Barcelonawill resume the league season away atReal Mallorcaand finish the campaign away atAlaves.
The matches they will have marked in red on their calendar are the trips toSevillaandVillarrealand the home matches againstAthleticandAtletico Madrid.
LaLiga Santanderis no longer a long-distance race, but rather a sprint.
The pre-season facing both teams will be decisive. In the summer there is a margin of error, but now there is none.
The two points that separateBarcelonaandReal Madridin the table will force each team to treat every match like a final until the end of the season.
Fitness coaches take on a new dimension and putting players at the top of their game will certainly make a difference.
The one who restarts the season in the best shape will have an advantage and they can change the game with their first change.
Also, the pre-season work will be fundamental in minimising the risk of injuries. It will be a decisive period of work prior to football getting back underway.
As MARCA have revealed,Zidaneis ready to alternate between two XIs so that he can maintain freshness and avoid injuries by getting the most out of certain players.Setienwill be obliged to do the same.
Despite the fact that they are two teams that are used to playing with a congested fixture list, the strength of their squads will end up making the difference.
The final stages of the season usually forceReal MadridandBarcelonato start prioritising Europe, with the knockout stages of theChampions Leaguedisputed between February and May, but this will not be a problem either coach will have to deal with.
For once, all their focus will be onLaLiga Santanderat this time of the year. There will be nothing else to worry about, except for the 11 ‘finals’ for the title.