LaLiga: Unanswered questions for Real Madrid, Barcelona and rest of top six
Our correspondents have compiled some of the big questions that have been left up in the air for the top six clubs during the coronavirus-enforced suspension of LaLiga.
Spanish football has been paralysed by the coronavirus crisis, leaving several unanswered questions up in the air as clubs, players and fans await the return to action. This season has seen one of the tightest title races in recent years, with Barcelona on 58 points and Real Madrid just behind them on 56.
And while the neck-and-neck race between the two rivals has brought excitement, there are still some bleak statistics that cannot be ignored. The current leader of LaLiga has just 58 points out of a possible 81 points. While Madrid have dropped 25 points from 27 games, Barça are not far behind them with 25 points lost.
The third horse in the race over past the few years, Atlético Madrid find themselves way of the pace of the leaders this season. Diego Simeone’s side sit in sixth place with 45 points and at this stage are now focused on securing Champions League football for next season, something which is far from a guarantee.
But perhaps the biggest surprise this season has been Getafe’s starring role. Sitting in fifth, José Bordalás’ men are well in the running for a top-four spot and face a last-16 Europa league tie against Inter Milan after beating Ajax last month. The other big revelation has been fourth-placed Real Sociedad, who have already booked their place in the Copa del Rey final against Basque rivals Athletic Bilbao. Below, six AS correspondents have compiled some of the big questions that have been left up in the air for the top six clubs during the coronavirus-enforced suspension.
Barcelona: Setién, Braithwaite, and the white hankies
By Santi Giménez
Will Quique Setién settle on a formation?
The Cantabrian coach had to give up on his idea of using a 3-5-2 soon after taking over from Ernesto Valverde. He then tried a 4-3-3, which he has since alternated with a 4-4-2 system. In the last match before the suspension against Real Sociedad, he opted for the latter with Arturo Vidal deployed as a false striker.
Is Martin Braithwaite the solution?
The Danish striker, who came in to reinforce the attack in the absence of Ousmane Dembélé and Luis Suarez, has only started one game, the 1-0 win over Real Sociedad. Braithwaite has provided Setién with a different dynamic up front, but so far he doesn’t appear to be the best solution for Barcelona’s lack of goals.
Will the white handkerchiefs keep coming out for Josep Bartomeu?
The suspension of the league has come as a respite for under-fire president Josep Bartomeu, who has received constant criticism over his management of the club of late. In the last three games, he was the target of white-hankie-waving Barcelona fans keen to see him resign.
Real Madrid: regaining the lead, Benzema and Bale
By Manu de Juan
Are Madrid capable of regaining the lead?
After victory in the Clásico came the disaster at the Estadio Benito Villamarín which allowed Barça to return to the top. Madrid signed off before the league suspension with one of their worst games of the season against Betis (2-1), after which Zidane was highly self-critical. The big question is if they can reverse the situation. The remaining calendar of fixtures is in their favour, with Barcelona still having to face Sevilla, Athletic Bilbao and Atlético.
Can Benzema rekindle his goalscoring form?
The French striker scored from the spot against Betis after Sergio Ramos generously handed him the penalty-taking duties. But his performances in recent months have been disappointing. Benzema has scored just two goals in his past 16 games, poor numbers for Madrid’s number ‘9’, who netted 12 in the first 16 league games of the season. If Zidane's men are going to fight for the title, they will definitely need the help of Benzema at his best.
Will Bale make himself important again?
The Zidane-Bale relationship has been broken since the summer, when the coach publicly spoke of his desire to see the Welshman leave. But in the end, he stayed and Zidane decided to give him another opportunity, handing him a starting role at the beginning of the season. But little by little, Bale has faded into irrelevance and played no part in the last two games against Barcelona and Betis. The question is whether the Welsh striker, who has made a habit of turning up at important moments, will do so again in Madrid’s quest to lift the title.
Can Madrid’s defence regain their solidity?
This season, Madrid had enjoyed its most solid defensive units in recent years, but that solidity was destroyed in the 4-3 Copa del Rey defeat to Sociedad. Including that game, Los Blancos have conceded 12 goals in the their last seven matches, in stark contrast to the four goals in the previous 13 league games.
Sevilla: Champions League, Banega, De Jong
By José Antonio Espina
Can they keep up their recent form in their hunt for a Champions League spot?
The victories against Getafe and Osasuna and the draw against Atlético at the Wanda has helped Lopetegui’s side to regain momentum in their fight for third place.
Can Éver Banega get back to his best?
Having sat out two games after some bad performances before that, the Argentine looked like he was back at his best against Atlético.
Will forwards De Jong and En-Nesyri keep Sevilla’s run going?
The two strikers, and De Jong in particular, have been scoring important goals for Sevilla this season and will need to continue to do so if Lopetegui’s side are going to secure Champions League football next season.
Real Sociedad: Willian José and Odegaard
By Roberto Ramajo
Will Willian José receive total forgiveness from Real fans?
The Brazilian striker refused to play a game with Real in a bid to force his sale to Tottenham in January. However, the moved didn’t happen, which left him having to publicly apologise to Real supporters. At Eibar in the only game played behind closed doors before the league was suspended due to the coronavirus crisis, he finally scored again after a poor run of form since the Spurs debacle. That got him on the right track, but it is yet to be known if he will be able to gain the complete forgiveness of Real fans.
Can Odegaard regain his stellar form from the first half of the season?
The Norwegian player, on loan from Real Madrid, had been one of the revelations of the season but has lost some of his sheen of late due to an ongoing muscle issue. However, even in his more muted recent performances, he has continued to show signs of his class. An undisputed starter for coach Imanol Alguacil, Odegaard appeared to be on route to getting back to his best in the last game against Eibar.
Getafe: Ángel and Bordalás
By José Antonio de la Rosa
Can Ángel find goals again?
Since his move to Barcelona didn’t materialise, Ángel has lost his prominence. His last goal, in fact, came in the 2-1 defeat at Camp Nou in mid-February but he has now gone five games without finding the net.
Will Bordalás stay on next season?
Before the break, many betted on this being Bordalás’ last season at the Coliseum. The Spanish coach will not be short of suitors. It is a question that has not gone away, but the circumstances have now changed as a result of the LaLiga suspension.
Atlético: Champions League, Costa and Oblak
By Jesús Colino
Will Atlético be able to secure a Champions League spot?
With 11 games left to be played, Atlético find themselves in sixth and in the thick of a tough fight to secure a top-four sport. Los Rojiblancos have never finished outside the top four since Diego Simeone took charge.
Can Diego Costa find the best version of himself?
Costa has been struggling for goals during his second spell at Atlético and that was even before the back hernia injury that stopped him short earlier this season. He has now recovered but is still not at 100%. It is yet to be seen if the Spanish striker can recover the best version of himself from his first spell at Atléti.
Can Oblak win his fifth Zamora in a row?
The Slovenian is the hunt for his fifth consecutive Zamora trophy, which is awarded to the goalkeeper who concedes the fewest goals over the season. Five trophies is the current record, held by Antoni Ramallers and Victor Valdes, but nobody has ever won five in a row. The Slovenian keeper has conceded 21 goals in 27 games (0.78), but faces an uphill battle against Real Madrid’s Thibaut Courtois, who has let in 16 in 24 games (0.67).
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