Spanish football set for frantic season end

By José Antonio Pascual

Madrid, Jun 9 (efe-epa).- Spain’s top-flight league returns this week with a jam-packed schedule to clear a backlog of games after a three-month coronavirus hiatus.

Thursday marks the grand resumption of LaLiga with the Seville derby as Sevilla host Real Betis and from then until 19 July there will hardly be any respite for top-flight players in a tightly packed schedule replete with derbies, title deciders and relegation battles.

There are 11 match days remaining to complete the 2019/20 season — some 110 games spread across what some players — especially those vying for top-spot — have billed “11 finals.”

A minute’s silence will be held before every game left to play this season to remember the tens of thousands of people in Spain who have lost their lives to Covid-19.

The history books will remember the season as one of the strangest yet, not just because of the rushed schedule but because players will tie up their unfinished business in empty stadiums, as any large gatherings are barred due to the pandemic.

These are not the only changes. Faced with a string of back-to-back clashes, clubs will be able to extend their team sheets to 23 players, five substitutions can be made per game and officials will allow for water breaks as Spain hurtles towards its notoriously hot summer season.

From a sporting point of view, the fixture lineup is mouthwatering.

The Seville derby kicks things off with Sevilla holding onto third place — a UEFA Champions League spot — by their fingertips.

They face a 12th-place Real Betis team whose final act before the Spanish lockdown in early March was to upset Real Madrid with a 2-1 home victory, although it is yet to be seen whether the boost that would usually come from felling the Spanish giants has lingered on for more than three months of hiatus.

With the loss, Zinedine Zidane’s Madrid was toppled from 1st place in the table, two points behind reigning champions Barcelona. They’ll try to get back on course against Eibar, who are due for a visit to the Santiago Bernabeu.

Real Madrid’s Eden Hazard and Marco Asensio have freshly recovered from injuries that would, if the league schedule had gone to plan, put them out of the game.

The same goes for Luis Suárez at Barcelona, just in time for Quique Setién’s Catalan powerhouse to pick things up again away to Mallorca with Lionel Messi’s name firmly on the team sheet.

Further down the league table, the battle for a Champions League spot will be frenetic. Behind Sevilla by just one point is Real Sociedad, who will host Osasuna in their first game back.

On equal pegging with the Basque side are Getafe, who have a trip to Granada on the calendar.

Lurking just one point behind those two are Atlético de Madrid, who have a tough game away to Athletic Bilbao without their Portuguese star Joao Felix.

Bringing up the back, Leganés and Espanyol are in desperate need of points to avoid relegation to the second division, which kicks off Wednesday with the second half of a postponed match between Rayo Vallecano and Albacete. EFE-EPA


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