The 2019-20 La Liga title race: Barca’s domestic dominance threatened while Real smells silverware

After suffering shocking defeats by the hands of Liverpool FC in champions league semi-final second leg and Valencia CF in the Copa del Rey finals, defending champions FC Barcelona had a really big need to redeem themselves after becoming a laughing stock in the football world 2 years consecutively. Real Madrid were not feeling too hot about themselves either after not winning any domestic or continental trophies in the previous season. Zinedine Zidane wanted to take his team back to the top of European football. In the summer transfer window, Barcelona dug deep into their pockets signing Frenkie De Jong of Ajax FC for €76 million, a deal they agreed in January, and then the ever scoring Antoine Griezmann by paying his controversial release clause of €120 million to Atletico Madrid in July. Real Madrid finally bought a worthy heir to Cristiano Ronaldo in the form of Eden Hazard for a reported jaw dropping €135 million. 

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On the first matchday, Barcelona were handed a shocking defeat by Athletico Bilbao away from home. On the same day Real Madrid beat Celta Vigo away from home, ending the week at the summit. The following week as Real Madrid drew at home againt Real Valladolid losing the top spot, Barca beat Real Betis at home reinstating the Camp Nou as a fortress not losing a single game there since November of 2018. Following a pattern of dominant performances at home and shameful performances away by Barcelona and a string of inconsistent performances by Real Madrid it wasn’t until round 6 that one of the usual suspects ie. Real and Barca made it to the summit since Real after round 1.

Barca finally overtook Madrid in Round 9 ,when the Galacticos fell against  the newly promoted Mallorca, by beating SD Eibar 3-0. Real was looking for vengeance in the first El Clasico of the year at the Camp Nou to take back the top spot but due to political conditions in Catalonia the Clasico had to be postponed.

On 18 December came Madrid’s chance to take on their arch nemesis in the Clasico and reach the summit, alas the game ended in a 0-0 draw leaving Barcelona still on top by goal difference. This match also started the turning of cogs leading to the sacking of then Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde. In Quique Setien’s first match as the Valverde’s replacement, Barcelona recorded the 3rd highest possession stats since data collection began recording 82% possession. However, it was not long before Setien lost his first match, it was an away game against Valencia at Mestalla paving the way for Real to take the top spot.

Barcelona’s biggest hope was Real dropping points in the Madrid Derby which was held in the following round, but Real had other plans and defeated Atletico Madrid 1-0 while they failed to win the first one ending it in a draw at Wanda Metropolitano. Zinedine Zidane and his troops were locked, cocked and ready to rock towards the title, but the inconsistent form hit them again, with a draw and a loss coming consecutively against Levante and Celta Vigo respectively. Now came the day, the day that could severely increase Barca’s odds of winning the title. The second El Clasico, Barcelona was 2 points in front of Real. If they had won, the title race was essentially over and Zidane knew it. His team fought tooth and nail to end the game 2-0 and got that much needed win. The race was back on. In an interesting turn of events Real lost their very next match against Real Betis giving Barca a crucial 2 point lead just before the break.

This has been the story so far until the untimely hold on football due to the Coronavirus Pandemic. This season, Real Madrid and Barcelona have been engaged in a sort of game of hot potato with top spot with none of them being able to hold down the position for long.

For Barcelona the pause couldn’t have come at a better time. Since the start of the season Barcelona has suffered more than 15 injuries which even forced them to activate the emergency signing clause in the La Liga regulations and buy the Leganes forward Martin Braithwaite activating his release clause of €18million. The break also allowed Luis Suarez to come back much sooner than anticipated, Ousmanne Dembele too might get an opportunity to contribute to the team by the end of the season, but most importantly Leo Messi got some much needed rest as he was playing through some discomfort in his right leg.

As for Real, their aging players like their captain Sergio Ramos, Ballon D’or winner Luka Modric and world cup winner Toni Kroos also got some much desired rest allowing the team to be fresh and ready to end the season with a bang. Eden Hazard who, much like Antione Griezmann, was looking to find his groove in his new team also needed this break to recover from the fracture in his ankle. Real will be feeling a little more optimistic, as Barcelona have an arguably more difficult run of fixtures post the coronavirus break.

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On the title race up ahead, Barcelona has a 2 point advantage over Real Madrid, and with the return of Luis Suarez, Barca might just find the goals they were missing. However, counting Real Madrid out just yet will be a foolish mistake. With La Liga action returning on 11 June both teams are looking to get a running start with no one in a position to make any mistakes. Barcelona’s first game is against RCD Mallorca away from home on 13 June while Madrid will be taking on Eibar at home the following day.

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