LaLiga season returns: Can Real Madrid catch Barcelona?

Real Madrid is hot on Barcelona's heels, while there is a four-way fight for Champions League football as LaLiga prepares to return.

Barcelona is one point above bitter rival Real Madrid before LaLiga was suspended.   -  Getty Images

After the Bundesliga's successful return, LaLiga looks to be up next among Europe's top five leagues.

Spain's top flight has been suspended since March 12 after Real Madrid went into quarantine when a player on its basketball team tested positive for coronavirus.

A resumption date of June 8 has been approved, however, and a tense title tussle is back on the cards between the country's two grandest clubs.

Ahead of the big kick-off behind closed doors, we take a look at the story so far in this LaLiga campaign.
 

What is the state of play?

Real Madrid head coach Zinedine Zidane will be hoping to overtake Barcelona in the league table.   -  Getty Images

 

Madrid has won the domestic league title in just one of the past seven seasons, yet it is poised to push Barcelona all the way this time.

It is Barca which again has the advantage for now, though, holding a two-point lead over its bitter rival, having reclaimed top spot ahead of the suspension when Zinedine Zidane's side lost at Real Betis.

Defeat in Seville represented a bitter blow for Madrid, which seemed to have seized the initiative by beating the Blaugrana at the Santiago Bernabeu the previous week.

The big two still have work to do in the Champions League - Madrid trails Manchester City after a last-16 first leg, as Barca-Napoli stands at 1-1 - but there is no third horse in the race positioned to take advantage.

It is all to play for in the race for Champions League qualification, as just two points separate third-placed Sevilla and Atletico Madrid in sixth.

Shot-shy draw kings Atleti upset holder Liverpool to reach the quarter-finals of Europe's elite club competition, but must battle past Real Sociedad and Getafe to be assured of a return to the big time next season.

At the foot of the table, Espanyol, Leganes and Real Mallorca occupy the relegation places. Celta Vigo is a point clear of Mallorca in 17th.
 

What have been the big controversies?

Even by Barca's colourful standards, this has been a particularly tumultuous season.

Head coach Ernesto Valverde was sacked in January following a Supercopa de Espana semi-final reverse at the hands of Atletico, and sporting director Eric Abidal bravely picked a fight with the squad, including former team-mate Lionel Messi, by suggesting players were not working hard enough for the dismissed boss.

Messi fired back and claimed Abidal was "dirtying" the squad, with reports of discontent behind the scenes persisting ever since.

To make matters worse for Barca, club great Messi has a clause in his contract that could prompt a free transfer - although such a departure still seems incredibly unlikely.

READ: Transfer Talk: Setien keen on Neymar Barcelona return  

Ivan Rakitic is among the Blaugrana stars who might well depart, reminding the club: "I am not a sack of potatoes. I will decide my future. I want to be where I am valued."

Sales are said to be required to fund potential big-money bids for Lautaro Martinez and ex-Barca forward Neymar.
 

Who had momentum before everything stopped?

Real Madrid could only manage a third-place finish in La Liga last season, as three coaches failed to provide a huge amount of inspiration.   -  Getty Images

 

New head coach Quique Setien was not immediately able to arrest Barca's January slump and it ceded top spot to Madrid after a run of just two wins in six in the league.

However, the Catalan giant had been a picture of consistency since the January 25 loss at Valencia - until visiting Madrid.

A run of four straight wins was ended by Zidane's men, yet Barca was back on track when it beat Sociedad prior to the pause in play.

Madrid, by contrast, has taken just four points from its past four games, with the Barca game sandwiched between a pair of defeats. Los Blancos had previously lost just once in the league this term.

READ: Stoichkov: Martinez will learn a lot at Barcelona

The suspension came at a frustrating time for Sociedad, meanwhile, after four wins in five - losing only to the leaders - moved the Basque outfit into the top four.

Wins for Leganes and Mallorca in their most recent fixtures ensured both sides retained survival hopes.
 

Which clubs have had it toughest during the COVID-19 months?

Real Madrid striker Luka Jovic had made headlines for all the wrong reasons.   -  Getty Images

 

The positive test for a Madrid basketball players may have prompted the season's suspension, but Valencia are the LaLiga club most prominent in early discussion of coronavirus.

Ezequiel Garay, Jose Gaya and Eliaquim Mangala each confirmed diagnoses, before Los Che revealed on March 16 that 35 per cent of those at the club tested had returned positive results.

Madrid still made the headlines, though, as forward Luka Jovic was criticised for breaching self-isolation measures on his return to Serbia.

ALSO READ: Broken foot woe for Real Madrid striker Luka Jovic

Fifteen cases were soon confirmed at Deportivo Alaves, too, while Spain has become one of the worst-affected countries with more than 28,000 related deaths.

The country's leading players at least helped to limit the financial impact of the crisis with pay cuts, with Barca stars forgoing more than 70 per cent of their wages.

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