Next Up: La Liga
Written by Massimo Cipriano
(Cover Photo: Reuters)
With the Bundesliga returning to action two weeks ago, our thirst for action has been adequately quenched. However, with the return of three other major soccer leagues, we are in for a lot more action this summer. La Liga is next in line to begin its rebirth, with fans counting the days until the first kickoff on June 11th. From there, we are in for a lot of soccer, with the released schedule (Marca) revealing 32 consecutive days (June 11- July 12) of La Liga matches. With that being said, there are some important storylines to check out before the play resumes. For starters, here’s a look at the table coming into matchday 28:
The Title Race
One of the most eye-popping properties of this table is the tight title race between Barcelona and Real Madrid. With Bayern recently distancing themselves by seven points at the top of the Bundesliga with a 1-0 win over Dortmund, La Liga has given us a fresh chance to witness heated trophy competition.
(Photo: Getty Images)
They don’t face each other again this season, but both clubs have some important matches down the road that will ultimately decide the title. Real Madrid host Valencia and Getafe in an empty Bernabeu, and have to travel to Reale Arena to play Sociedad. Barcelona’s key matches include a home fixture against Sevilla, and away at Atlético Madrid. Could a Barcelona squad highlighted by Lionel Messi, Antoine Griezmann and a returning Luis Suárez claim their third straight La Liga title, or can Real Madrid ruin the Catalan’s party despite Eden Hazard’s injury?
The Scramble for European Qualification
While the race for the title is limited to the two giants in the clouds, the hustle for the remaining 4 spots that yield European qualification is still up in the air. A miniscule five points separate the clubs in third and seventh. The last two Champions League spots belong to Sevilla and Real Soceidad, while Getafe hold the Europa League spot in fifth place, and Atlético Madrid sit in sixth, where they would need a playoff to qualify for the Europa League. In seventh, but only three points away from Atlético, is Valencia, who hope to make any sort of return to Europe after a crushing Round of 16 defeat to Atalanta.
I will go further in depth on Valencia and Sevilla later in the article, but I will visit the other clubs here. For starters, Real Sociedad have been impressive this season, sitting in a Champions League position after finishing in ninth the previous season. Their most significant results include victories over Atlético Madrid and Valencia, as well as a draw against Barcelona. They have impressive young talent on their roster, including 23 year old Spanish winger Mikel Oyarzabal, who has scored 8 and assisted in 6 goals this season. Real Sociedad have a tough schedule waiting for them, as future matches against Real Madrid, Getafe, Sevilla, and Atlético Madrid may hinder their success by the time the season is said and done.
Martin Odegaard (center) has caught the attention of Real Madrid this season (Photo: Álvaro Barrientos)
Getafe are continuing their deep run in the Europa League, but will have to put that on the back burner to focus on a potential upgrade to the Champions League through a top-four finish. Their match against Sociedad will have profound implications on the finish of the season. However, the Spanish race for Europe is truly a scramble, with any slip up being met by a club ready to pounce on the opportunity. Therefore, Getafe must treat every game with the utmost importance, since challenges against Atlético Madrid and Real Madrid will augment their challenges. Keep an eye on Marc Cucurella, the 21 year old midfielder who is linked to Barcelona as the transfer window approaches.
Marc Cucurella (right) and Getafe will take on Inter Milan in the Europa League Round of 16 (Photo: Getty Images)
After losing Antoine Griezmann to Barcelona following a second place finish last season, Atlético has struggled to return to their winning ways in the 2019-2020 campaign. As a matter of fact, they have more draws (12) than wins (11), and have lost the least number of games (4) among all La Liga Teams. In order to enjoy a successful final stretch, Atlético must find their attacking form through Álvaro Morata and João Félix. Another player to keep watch out for is Ghanian defensive midfielder Thomas Partey, who has a plethora of Premier League rumors to his name. It will be exciting to see if Los Colchoneros can pick up speed in the final 11 matches.
COVID-19 ended Atleti on a high note, eliminating defending champions Liverpool from the UEFA Champions League (Photo: Giuseppe Cacace)
(Re)Opening Day: The Sevillan Derby
La Liga will reopen with a bang, in the form of a historic Sevillan derby between Real Betis and Sevilla. This time, however, it will be played in front of a red sea of seats at Ramón Sánchez-Pizjuan. The rampant fans of southern Spain are what makes this rivalry elite in the history of soccer. It will be interesting to see if the players will represent the same passion of their fans, even if the roars of the crowd are not heard.
Many fans believe that the Sevillan derby is the biggest in all of Spain (Photo: Marca)
Sevilla are currently in third place, and are looking to establish security in the top level of La Liga. Towering center back Diego Carlos is sure to impress first-time viewers, as he has also attracted the attention of the Premier League coming into the summer window.
Sevilla looks to return to the Champions League for the first time since the 2017-2018 season(Photo: Ramn Navarro)
Meanwhile, Betis currently sit mid-table in the 12th spot, coming off of a huge win against Real Madrid before play was brought to a halt. They hope to continue this form against another top tier squad, in a game where so much emotion is invested. Recent signee Nabil Fekir will be looking to be the hero in this historic fixture, after his team lost 2-1 when they hosted Sevilla earlier this season. Hopefully, this captivating derby will serve as a captivating way to get the La Liga season back underway.
Despite previous links to bigger clubs, Fekir has found his home at Betis (Photo: La Liga)
El Derby Del Turia
The rivalry action does not stop in Sevilla, as the Valencian derby highlights the first slate of weekend matches. This rivalry may not be as bitter as the previous, but there is still a substantial hatred between the fans of Valencia and Levante. Valencia fan Gemma Bosch weighs in on the rivalry: “If Levante loses, I can’t even talk to my friends who are Levante fans about it. It is guaranteed to become a big argument.” In fact, Valencia fans call Levante fans granotas (big frogs), while Levante fans call Valencia fans “Chotos” (goats).
Valencia are the inner-city team with greater popularity, and far more success. However, they entered the lockdown with a sour taste, failing to advance to the quarter-finals of the Champions League. A positive result from this rivalry match may give Valencia the morale boost necessary as they try to fight their way back into European qualification. With the strong leadership of their loyal captain, Daniel Parejo, Valencia could just climb the table and return to the Champions League to avenge their disappointing defeat.
(Photo: Valencia CF)
Meanwhile, on the outskirts of Valencia, Levante has not enjoyed as much success as the city kids. They have bounced around between the first and second, and third divisions. Through thick and thin, Levante fans stuck by their club’s side with admirable dedication. Now, the extension of their current La Liga stay to a fourth season looks promising. They shouldn’t be totally comfortable, though, as an eight point cushion between them and relegation could easily be reduced if their form deteriorates.
(Photo: Levante UD)
Soccer is finally coming back into full swing, but it all feels so different now that fans aren’t able to soak it in firsthand. I hope that soccer fans at home take this great opportunity to watch La Liga, a league that is underappreciated, but nowhere near short of the excitement.