Barcelona and Real Madrid are ensconced at the top of La Liga–no surprise in that fact. They are separated by two points while third-placed Sevilla are nine points adrift of second place. That Los Cules are two points ahead of Los Blancos is a surprise because the Barca camp has lurched from one crisis to another. They sacked the manager when he led the table and was still in the UEFA Champions League; three directors resigned; Lionel Messi has been up in arms [publicly] while expensive acquisitions look like empty barrels. But through the 19 goals and 12 assists from Messi, Barcelona restart the league two points ahead but with 33 to play for.

Barcelona will continue to play at the imposing Nou Camp while Real Madrid have revealed they will play at the 5000-capacity Di Stefano Stadium, the home of their Segunda team. The head-to-head rule used in tie-breaks favours Real Madrid, which means all Zinedine Zidane’s men have to do is make up the two-point deficit and win a first league title in three years.

Returnees for Barcelona and Real Madrid

Barcelona had to perform a bizarre transfer deal on February 20 because of long-term injuries to Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele. They brought in Martin Braithwaite [and condemned Leganes to relegation]. The Dane played 127 minutes across three games before Covid-19 halted proceedings on March 7. Since that time, Suarez has fully recuperated and thus looks like the €18 million acquisition of the Danish striker will be red-lighted in the debit column of Barcelona’s accounting books at the end of the season. Will Suarez’s return strengthen Barca? Definitely. But will he return to full speed as soon as the league kicks off on Thursday? Maybe. Barcelona defender, Clement Lenglet, told his club’s official website that “Luis [Suarez] has had time to recover without rushing. He’s looking good in training and seems very comfortable on the ball. He is going to help us a lot.” Surely, Barca need all the help they can get to hold off their sworn adversaries till the end of the season.

Real Madrid midfielder, Toni Kroos, told his club’s website, “It’s the first time we have to play matches without the fans, let’s see how it is, and the team that adapts better to this situation is the one that will win.” Eden Hazard has fully recovered and Marco Asensio is available for the first time this season. These two returnees are pivotal for the way Zidane likes to play–building play from the flanks using inverted forwards, who can dribble. If both players are up to speed and fully focused, they will bring something extra than the likes of Brazilian youngsters –Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo – both of whom have not scored enough goals while Gareth Bale could be further sidelined. The three players have not been consistent, having contributed six league goals between them.

The inherent drama for 4th place and relegation

From Sevilla, who are third with 47 points to Valencia in seventh place with 42 points, the race for the lucrative Champions League is one that will be closely fought. Normal participants like Atletico Madrid and Valencia must buckle up and fight tooth and nail to upstage upstarts like Getafe and a good Real Sociedad side [in fourth place], who have scored the third-most goals in the league. Seven points separate 16th-placed Eibar from the bottom side, Espanyol, but there are a lot of points to fight for which means the likes of Deportivo Alaves and Real Valladolid can be quickly dragged into the relegation mire.

The Nigerian angle

The most consistent Nigerian in Spain is 21-year-old Samuel Chukwueze, who has played in 26 league games–he logged 26 games in the 2018/19 season. This season, he has scored three goals, though still two less than he achieved last season. He has also only assisted one goal, compared to the two achieved last season. His manager, Javi Calleja, will expect his forward to help the team score more goals as they chase Europe as they sit eighth on the table, four points behind Valencia in seventh.

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Oghenekaro Etebo joined Getafe in the January transfer window but has not established a consistent run in the unfancied team’s chase of a Champions League slot. Etebo has logged 349 minutes with no goals or assists, though he has bagged two yellow cards. Getafe are fifth, tied on 46 points with Real Sociedad–one point off third-placed Sevilla and they tackle Sociedad on June 26, a match that could prove their European-chase credentials.

The other two Nigerians – Kenneth Omeruo and Chidozie Awaziem – are with struggling Leganes. The wonderful part of their relegation struggle is they have not been cut adrift from seeking an escape, what with 11 matches left on the roster. Omeruo has featured in 19 league matches while Awaziem is at 18, though Omeruo has scored. They have a mighty battle against 18th-placed Mallorca on June 19; Espanyol on July 4–two matches that could help them to safety, if they can get the six points on offer.

Fixtures

Thursday June 11, 2020

Sevilla v Real Betis

Friday, June 12, 2020

Granada v Getafe
Valencia v Levante

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Espanyol v Deportivo Alavés
Celta Vigo v Villarreal
Leganes v Real Valladolid
Mallorca v Barcelona

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Athletic Club v Atletico Madrid
Real Madrid v Eibar
Real Sociedad v Osasuna

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