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La Liga is back and rolling. It all kicked off with the Seville derby on Thursday, but now attention turns to the title race.
Barcelona are two points ahead of Real Madrid at the top of the table, as the teams face Mallorca and Eibar respectively this weekend.
So with 11 games remaining, who’s in the best position to take the title?
“I believe Real Madrid have more certainties,” said Alvaro Romeo on the Totally Football Show this week. “They have a bigger squad, and if teams are going to play every 72 hours, this calendar favours whoever has a bigger squad. Real have ten options up front, Barcelona are a bit short in that department, and I think this is why Real are slight favourites. That, plus Eden Hazard is back.”
So what of Barcelona? Lockdown has brought only negative stories at the Nou Camp, and Alvaro thinks that, if nothing else, the return of football will serve as a distraction from all of that.
“The best thing for Barcelona is that football is back. That means people can forget about the salary reductions, the rumours about what players can be used to make Lautaro Martinez cheaper. That doesn’t go down well with the supporters, because Barcelona [staff] have been furloughed, but they’re still talking about signing one of the most expensive players in the world.
“Suarez coming back is going to help a lot, because Antoine Griezmann is not offering the attacking threat that was expected to offer. Not yet, at least.
“Messi is going to be more or less fit, even though he had some soft tissue problems this week. Semedo is the one that has made headlines lately, because he was spotted having a barbecue with 20 people, and in Cataluyna last week only 15 people were allowed to gather. He was doing something illegal and obviously not following La Liga protocol either.
“Quique Setien took over in January. He didn’t have the time to implement his ideas then, and not now either because he’s only had two weeks with the full squad.”
One potential factor is that Real Madrid won’t be playing their remaining home games at the Bernabeu, because of some refurbishment works that were put in place before the league was suspended. They will instead play at their B team’s ground, the 6,000 capacity Estadio Alfredo di Stefano on the other side of town.
But Alvaro didn’t think that would be much of a factor.
“The pitch dimensions are exactly the same, so in that sense there won’t be any difference at all. From what we’ve seen in the Bundesliga, the best teams are winning and the talent is imposing itself, so I think the same thing will end up happening with Real.”
Further down the table, what of Atletico Madrid? They sit in sixth place, only a point outside the Champions League places, but what would failure to finish in that top four mean for Diego Simeone’s side?
“Using the word ‘catastrophic’ would be too hyperbolic, but that would almost be reality. Last summer Atletico Madrid made a gigantic investment, like signing Joao Felix, one of the most expensive players in La Liga history.
“They bought a player like that because 1) they needed immediate success, and 2) they needed to qualify for the Champions League. What happened at Liverpool was a one-off for Atletico Madrid: it remains to be seen whether they can continue with their form in Europe…I think the real Atletico is the Atletico that lies sixth in La Liga.”
They face a tough task in travelling to play Athletic Bilbao this weekend, but will do so with a key man back in their ranks.
“In the same way that for Real and Barcelona the return of Hazard and Suarez will help, Diego Costa will play for Atletico. He had some neck injuries earlier in the season but he’s now fully fit.
“They’ve had some internal news too: Diego Simeone’s assistant German Burgos said he will leave at the end of the season. It’s a time of change for Atletico. What happened in Liverpool has to be a ‘booster’, even though it happened three months ago. Qualifying for the Champions League is a must for them.
“If any club relies on the home crowd and relies on the good spirit between Simeone and the fans, it’s Atletico. Many times Atletico have won games because Simeone managed to lift the players’ spirits.”
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