With the Premier League playing three games in seven days over the festive period, La Liga took a much more measured approach - breaking between December 22nd and this weekend. Upon its return, here are what we are looking out for in the first La Liga round of fixtures of 2020.
We have already had the Friday feeling for the return of the Spanish top flight, following a double header of fixture. A relegation six-pointer between Real Valladolid and Leganes is hopefully a sign of things to come this campaign as three goals flew in over the opening 13 minutes. Martin Braithwaite and Roque Mesa twice gave in-form Leganes the lead but the hosts hit back through an Enes Unal double. That result leaves Lega in the relegation zone and while it could have been worse for Valladolid, they are now seven games without a win.
The main course on Friday saw a battle at the top between Julen Lopetegui’s Sevilla and a side who wouldn’t have wanted 2019 to end - Athletic Club. Since taking over, Gaizka Garitano has transformed the fortunes of Los Leones, lifting them up the table and, despite a shaky end to the year, they are within reach of the European spots. The tie finished 1-1 - Unai Nunez’s own goal in the second half cancelling out Ander Capa’s early opener for Athletic.
El Derbi Barceloní
Saturday’s highlight is undoubtedly the Barcelona derby which sees top play bottom but also the introduction of a familiar face on the wrong side of the fence. Espanyol provided manager Pablo Machin with the Christmas sack he never wanted and moved quickly to appoint their third manager of the season, Aberlado Fernandez. The former Alaves and Sporting Gijon manager spent eight years of his playing career at Camp Nou but will be aiming to get one over on Ernesto Valverde. The Blaugrana spent Christmas as outright leaders of La Liga following Real Madrid’s 0-0 draw with Athletic Club before the break.
Bruises and Benzema
Los Blancos come back to work with a bump, opening their 2020 with a difficult away trip against combative Getafe. José Bordalás’s side are making another assault on the European places this season whilst simultaneously making progress in the Europa League. Zinedine Zidane tasted defeat only once in La Liga before Christmas but his side drawn seven games already this season including each of their last three. Madid’s struggle is with goals; outside of Karm Benzema who has 13 goals so far, their next top scorer is Sergio Ramos who has three. With Real Madrid wanting to rise back to the top of the charts in 2020 and Getafe topping the La Liga’s bookings table, the trip to the Coliseum Alfonso Pérez will not be an easy start to the year for the Merengues.
Sunday lunch feast
One game that is sure to be easy on the eye this weekend is the match between two entertainers, Real Sociedad and Villarreal. After six La Liga games without a win, the Yellow Submarine seem to have turned a corner, picking up wins over Sevilla and Getafe in their final two games before the break. Despite receiving universal acclaim for his play in the twilight of his career, both wins have come without Santi Carzola in the starting line-up and it will be interesting to see whether Javier Calleja returns the talisman to the chosen XI. The Anoeta has been refurbished and with the crowd closer to the pitch you could be forgiven for thinking they have helped to drive them to the brink of a European place. In truth, their away form is better than when they welcome sides to the Basque country, something they will be looking to change on Sunday. With the likes of Martin Odegaard, Mikel Oyarzabal, Gerard Moreno and Samu Chukwueze likely to feature, there will be plenty of quality on show whilst we tuck into yet another Sunday lunch.
Twitter: Alex Fitzpatrick