Barcelona head coach Setien expects a close finish in La Liga

Barcelona hosts relegation-threatened Leganes in an empty Camp Nou on Tuesday, while Madrid welcomes seventh-place Valencia on Thursday.

Lionel Messi scored once and set up two goals in Barcelona's 4-0 win against Real Mallorca.   -  reuters

The three-month break caused by the coronavirus pandemic didn’t seem to adversely affect the chances of Barcelona and Real Madrid to fight for the Spanish league title.

Both teams had comfortable victories over the weekend as the league returned to action in empty stadiums. Barcelona won 4-0 at Mallorca and Madrid easily defeated Eibar 3-1 at home.

The results kept Barcelona two points ahead of Madrid with 10 rounds remaining.

"It’s going to be a fight in which we both feel that we can’t fail again,” Barcelona coach Quique Setien said on Monday. “I hope the advantage we have right now will be enough to secure us the title. But there are many things that will be out of our control in this final month.”

READ| La Liga: Real Madrid resumes campaign with convincing win over Eibar

Barcelona hosts relegation-threatened Leganes in an empty Camp Nou on Tuesday, while Madrid welcomes seventh-place Valencia on Thursday - again at its training center while the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium remains under renovation for the rest of the season.

"I don’t know to what extent (playing without fans) will affect us,” Setien said. “I would rather play with fans but that’s not possible, so we have to adapt. Soccer loses part of its essence when matches are played in empty stadiums.”

Both Barcelona and Real Madrid got a boost during the break as Luis Suarez and Eden Hazard had time to recover from injuries that were expected to keep them out for the season.

There had been some concern about Lionel Messi’s return as well, especially after he sustained a small injury not long before the league resumed, but the playmaker scored a goal and set up two others on Saturday.

READ| Messi sets new La Liga record with 20th goal of the season

Messi is the league’s leading scorer with 20 goals and has directly contributed to 15 of the team’s last 18 goals (seven goals and eight assists). He has scored 20 or more goals for 12 straight seasons in the league.

"Messi is fine,” Setien said. “It’s not only about the goals, you have to look at how much he contributes to the team. He helps us in every game.”

Both Setien and Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane took advantage of the five substitutions available to coaches after the pandemic, and Setien said he plans to rotate the squad often to guarantee his players remain fit through the end of the season.

"There will be changes as the matches go on,” he said. “We will see how fatigue affects each player. I want us to arrive fresh at the end of the season. We’ll have to see how the players recover after each match.”

The Spanish league is scheduled to end on July 19.

For more updates, follow Sportstar on :