Soccer Football - La Liga Santander - Real Madrid v Barcelona - Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid, Spain - March 1, 2020 Barcelona

Barcelona and Real Madrid renew close-run title race

Barcelona and Real Madrid resume one of many tightest title races in current reminiscence when La Liga kicks again into motion this week in empty stadiums, after a three-month pause as a result of coronavirus pandemic. Just earlier than the season was postponed on March 10, former Real nice Jorge Valdano had likened the 2 groups’ inconsistent kind to a race between two limping males, however each side are set to be refreshed and stronger after the lengthy break.

Barca are boosted by the return of Luis Suarez from a knee harm that regarded set to rule him out for the season, and his aggression and energy ought to assist them ease their issues in breaking down sides.

Real will once more benefit from the providers of Eden Hazard after he was sidelined with a fractured ankle in February. Also again is Spain ahead Marcos Asensio, who ought to ease the burden on Karim Benzema, their runaway main scorer with 14 strikes.

Barca, focusing on a 3rd consecutive Spanish title, led Real by two factors when the season was postponed.

The break has additionally given their ageing squad some much-needed relaxation, whereas the additional time on the coaching floor ought to assist them additional adapt to the concepts of coach Quique Setien, who succeeded Ernesto Valverde in January.

With no followers allowed into venues and Real taking part in their dwelling video games on the 6,000-capacity Alfredo Di Stefano stadium whereas the Santiago Bernabeu is being refurbished, it is going to be a title race in contrast to every other.

“We will miss that boost and support you get from the crowd, who have a huge influence,” mentioned Setien.

Barca have a barely extra comfy run-in of their remaining 11 fixtures within the house of 5 weeks, with dwelling video games in opposition to Athletic Bilbao and Atletico Madrid plus journeys to Sevilla and Villarreal trying like their hardest video games.

Real, who beat Barca in March solely to blow their lead on the prime by shedding to Real Betis, have 5 doubtlessly tough fixtures: Valencia, Getafe and Villarreal at dwelling, plus journeys to Real Sociedad and Athletic Bilbao.

“It would be strange to say we are worse than Barca after we beat them just before we went into confinement,” mentioned Real goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.

“Even though we then lost to Betis, I think we’re in good shape. We’re all really excited about starting the league season again and fighting for the championship and winning it.”

(Reporting by Richard Martin, enhancing by Pritha Sarkar)