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La Liga returns: Everything you need to get up to speed ahead of June 11 restart

June 5, 2020

THE latest league to creak back into action after the Coronavirus lockdown is Spain’s Primeira Liga which is due to return on June 11 to complement the Bundesliga’s (so far) successful reintroduction.

Every club in Spain’s top-flight has 11 games remaining so expect some hot (in all senses) action in the summer nights ahead. To get you started here’s a quick recap of where we were when everything got paused in March.
 

Another Two Horse Race is it?
 

You probably won’t explode in shock to learn that leading the way are Barcelona with Real Madrid tucked in just behind. Other than Atletico’s title win in 2013-14, one of the two giants of the Spanish game have ended top in 14 of the last 15 seasons. But the pair are not quite at the peak of their powers, not quite vintage versions of their own myth, despite the nine point gap between Real in second and Sevilla in third.

Neither have convinced in the Champions League so far so it really could be time to concentrate on the league. And if Madrid are to prevent a third successive Barcelona title it will be because of their defence; as it stands they’re the only team in Europe’s top five leagues to have conceded fewer than 20 goals and seem to have finally coaxed Thibaut Courtois into the sort of form he showed when playing for Atletico in the early 2010s.

Based on Expected Goals, the ‘keeper has prevented more than four whole goals this season, and with 10 of their 16 wins coming accompanied by a clean sheet this is a functional collective Real team with the emphasis on team for once: 18 different players have scored for Zinedine Zidane’s team. Can the capital squad overcome the Messi team?

 

You said it: Barcelona have Messi so…
 

As it stands Lionel Messi has scored 438 league goals in 474 appearances which by anyone’s standards is reasonable. On first glance he is not facing any type of slowdown and, with 11 games remaining, already has 12 assists and 19 goals. The chances of this being the first league season in which Messi fails to reach 20 goals since 2005-06 seem… unlikely, yet a slightly closer look at the numbers shows only three of his goals this season have come in away games.

That’s not a crime but in his pre-beard pomp he was equally or more effective on the road, scoring more away than at home in each of 2008-09, 2009-10, 2010-11 and 2012-13. Over in Italy Cristiano Ronaldo is seeing a similar trend. Between them the great icons of our age have nine away goals this season, while Jadon Sancho and Kai Havertz have eight each. Sometimes the changing of the guard just walks up and takes place right in front of you.
 

Give me some youngsters to watch in La Liga then

Like a mediocre commercial radio station Spain’s top-flight is still too dominated by the 1980s and early 1990s but there are a few gems to keep an eye on. The Real Sociedad pair of Mikel Oyarzabal and eternal loan ranger Martin Ødegaard have six and five assists respectively and are two big reasons why the Basque club are currently in a Champions League place, one point ahead of brooding draw specialists Atletico Madrid.

It’s less promising regarding goals, though, with all eight players to have 10+ goals having been born in 1994 or earlier. And then there’s Real Betis’s Joaquin who has eight goals and two assists this season, a man born in 1981 and almost a year older than Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta.

 

 

Ah yeah, Kieran Trippier’s Atletico. How’s that going?
 

Well it’s not been a vintage season for Diego Simeone’s team in the league so far but Trippier has been enjoying playing for the sport’s defensive high priest and his numbers are decent. Three assists is as many as he provided for Tottenham last season and he needs only two more to match his best total in a top-flight season. Had his team-mates been sharper he could already be there, the six clear cut chances he’s created is one more than Joao Felix has managed.

 

Any league trends I should be aware of?

Well if the Bundesliga is all about the goals, La Liga is… well it’s not about goals. Of the four big leagues remaining active this season it has the lowest goals per game, the highest proportion of goalless draws and the lowest pass completion. With league games now scheduled for the height of the Spanish summer the pass completion may well rise (who’s going to want to press their opponents for 90 baking minutes?) but expect to see defences on top as usual, which, as we’ve discovered, could be good news for Real Madrid.