FEATURE | GSFN’s club-by-club guide for La Liga return

After a three-month hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, La Liga is resuming its 2019-20 season on Thursday with the eagerly anticipated Seville derby between Sevilla and Real Betis. 

In what is expected to be a mouth-watering end of season run-in, there are still several spots up for grabs at both ends of the table with eleven rounds of matches remaining. 110 games in just 39 days will have every La Liga fan on the edge of their seat, with a genuine title race and plenty of competition for Champions League and Europa League spots to look forward to. It’s pretty tight down the bottom of the table too, which will also prove interesting.


League position: 1st

Next match: Mallorca (A)

Manager: Quique Setién

Top scorer: Lionel Messi – 19

Story so far: A season of turmoil on and off the pitch, Barça seems to be a club at war with itself. Ernesto Valverde was fired after defeat to Atlético Madrid in the Super Cup in January, but the problems which dogged his reign are still evident under Setién. Meanwhile the relationship between the board and the players has hit an all time low, with the war of words between Lionel Messi and Eric Abidal and the dispute over pay cuts at the start of the coronavirus crisis. And despite all this, they’re still top.

Player to watch: Lionel Messi – with Barça’s squad looking pretty thin, there’s even more pressure on their captain and talisman to produce the goods. Fortunately for them, he usually does. If he can stay fit and produce his best form, Barcelona will more than likely end the season as Champions. 

Real Madrid 

League position: 2nd

Next match: Eibar (H)

Manager: Zinedine Zidane

Top scorer: Karim Benzema – 14

Story so far: Madrid are currently two points off table-toppers Barcelona on 56 points. A 2-0 win at the Santiago Bernabéu and a 0-0 draw at Camp Nou means Madrid have the upper hand on head-on-head which could decide where the title goes. Will they get used to their new makeshift ground? the Alfredo di Stefano stadium, as work continues on the new Bernabéu. The only absentees for Zidane are defender Nacho and striker Luka Jovic, who are both ruled out through injury. Zidane has won the Champions League three times. His eyes are on a league championship, with Madrid’s last triumph in 2016-17. The shutdown has given Eden Hazard time to get fit after undergoing ankle surgery in March. The real tests in the remaining fixtures for Los Blancos will be against Valencia, Real Sociedad, Athletic Club and Villarreal. 

Player to watch: Eden Hazard – Hazard is back fit and ready to take part again after a frustrating start to life in Madrid. The 29-year-old will be hoping to add to his solitary goal in 15 games this season. 


League position: 3rd

Next match: Real Betis (H)

Manager: Julen Lopetegui

Top scorer: Lucas Ocampos – 10

Story so far: Despite Monchi’s signings arriving and prolific scorer Wissam Ben Yedder exiting, you could have thought that this would be a transitional, low key season for Los Rojiblancos. Not one bit. With an overhauled, competitive squad and a new manager in the form of Lopetegui, the team has flourished in an aggressive and hard-working 4-3-3 system. As well as sitting third in La Liga, they are also in the last 16 of the Europa League.

Player to watch: Lucas Ocampos – Ocampos has been one of the revelations this season in La Liga. The Argentine is the top scorer for Sevilla, settling in seamlessly after his move from Marseille. His physical style and positive attitude are unquestionably a great fit for Lopetegui and he is already hearing the stands at the Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan bellow his name.

Real Sociedad

League position: 4th

Next match: Osasuna (H)

Manager: Imanol Alguacil

Top scorer: Willian José – 9

Story so far: A stunning season so far which will have the non-die-hard followers of La Liga having to rub their eyes in disbelief to see Real Sociedad sitting in fourth place. Key players have stayed injury-free this season like Alexander Isak and captain Mikel Oyarzabal. There is a collective fortitude and vibrancy about the team which has also seen them progress to the final of the Copa del Rey thanks to a memorable win over Real Madrid.

Player to watch: Mikel Oyarzabal – Martin Odegaard may be experiencing a breakthrough season, but it is difficult to look past local boy and captain Oyarzabal. He brings so much to the side, picking intelligent passes and linking up play high up the pitch, not to mention his scoring contribution. With so much guile and craft beyond his 22 years, the playmaker keeps impressing season after season.


League position: 5th

Next match: Granada (A)

Manager: José Bordalás

Top scorer: Ángel Rodriguez – 10

Story so far: Building on their impressive showing last season, Getafe continue to defy expectations and remain in with a shout of Champions League qualification on a fraction of the budget of the teams around them.

Player to watch: Jorge Molina – he may be one of the league’s older statesmen, but the powerful striker remains as important as ever to Getafe’s push for Europe. Arguably playing the best football of his career at 38, keeping him fit through the hectic schedule will be key.

Atlético Madrid

League position: 6th

Manager: Diego Simeone

Top scorer: Álvaro Morata – 8

Story so far: Two points behind third place Sevilla does not go a long way to argue this season has been anything other than a disappointment. This has been due to the combination of losing Antoine Griezmann in the summer to title rivals Barcelona, record signing João Félix failing to fill the boots of his predecessor and lacking in the ability to win games, leading to more draws than any other club. It’s difficult to see much more than Atleti limping over the line to a Europa League qualification spot.

Player to watch: Thomas Partey – Partey has the third highest La Liga appearance total for Atleti behind Jan Oblak and Saúl Ñíguez, unsurprisingly as one of the better performers this season. But with his future uncertain and Arsenal’s Mikel Arteta desperate for his signature, all eyes will be on whether the Ghanaian international can sign off dragging his team to redemption or play like a man destined for different shores.


League position: 7th

Next match: Levante (H)

Manager: Albert Celades

Top scorer: Maxi Gómez & Dani Parejo – 8

Story so far: It has been an inconsistent season for Valencia, a season which started with the firing of Marcelino after three games for behind-the-scenes disputes. The club has had to deal with over 30 injuries to its players, a rookie manager still learning on the job and inconsistent line-ups (due to injuries) and form. Currently 7th, hopes of Champions League qualification are slipping away already so they will be hoping to overcome the four-point deficit keeping them away from a Champions League spot.

Player to watch: Ferran Torres – Ferran has easily been Valencia’s most important player and brightest spark so far. He has carried their attack. Despite uncertainty regarding his future at the club, Valencia will need him at his best if they will sneak into a top four spot by the end of the season.


League position: 8th

Next match: Celta Vigo (A)

Manager: Javi Calleja

Top scorer: Gerard Moreno – 11

Story so far: Their opening day 4-4 draw with Granada has proved to be Villarreal’s season in a microcosm. Sometimes brilliant going forward, but ultimately too brittle at the back to really challenge for the top four. The highs, an excellent draw with Madrid, a 6-1 hammering of Betis, wins away to Sevilla and Real Sociedad, have been tempered by defeats against the bottom five and a Copa Del Rey humbling by Mirandés. It’s an improvement on last season’s flirtation with the drop at least.

Player to watch: Santi Cazorla – Cazorla’s return from an injury which could have left him unable to walk has been inspiring but few would have expected him to return to playing at such a high level. With eight goals and six assists in La Liga this season, he’s been central to everything good about Villarreal.


League position: 9th

Next match: Getafe (H)

Manager: Diego Martínez

Top scorer: Darwin Machís – 6

Story so far: The newly-promoted club took the league by storm, even leading the Primera for the first time in 46 years in October. A mid-table finish will be an excellent return to life in the top-flight. Highlights of this year’s campaign include a 2-0 home win against Barcelona and a cup run which took them to the Copa del Rey semi-final. 

Player to watch: Darwin Machís – the explosive Venezuelan has six goals and three assists in the league as well as three assists in the Copa del Rey this season. A threat to any defender in the league on his day, he is capable of getting into double figures for the Andalusian club.

Athletic Club

League position: 10th

Next match: Atlético Madrid (H)

Manager: Gaizka Garitano

Top scorer: Raúl García – 9

Story so far: Athletic Club were in the hunt for a top six finish until Copa Del Rey distractions got in the way. It could end up being worth it if they win the Copa final against Real Sociedad. In the meantime, they will hope to finish the league season strongly even if they can make Europe via the Copa. So far, they have looked solid, built on a ruthless defence with one of the best defensive records in Europe.

Player to watch: Unai Simon – Unai has been one of the best goalkeepers in Europe this season. When one considers how much Athletic struggle to score (29 goals in 27 league games so far), it’s easy to see why the work of the defence and especially Unai Simon is so important to their aspirations.


League position: 11th

Next match: Real Sociedad (A)

Manager: Jagoba Arrasate

Top scorer: Chimy Ávila – 9

Story so far: Osasuna have enjoyed an excellent return to Primera after promotion in 2019. Their high pressing football and quick, aggressive counter attacks have made them a joy to watch. Currently mid-table with 11 games to go. Don’t rule them out of sneaking into a European place. 

Player to watch: Chimy Ávila – the Argentine striker was having the season of his life and quickly became a fan-favourite before picking up a cruciate ligament injury in January. Ávila recently revealed he was close to joining Barcelona in the January transfer window. Thick-set thighs, two-footed, and with a low centre of gravity, the former Huesca man has been every defender’s nightmare this season. The three-month layoff has meant the 26-year-old has returned to training and is expected to be leading the line for the remainder of the season. 

Real Betis

League position: 12th

Manager: Rubi

Top scorer: Loren Morón – 9

Story so far: Winning just three of their first 13 La Liga games left Betis looking as if this season would be a fight for survival. However, a run of six wins from nine games in both league and cup seemed to show a possible turn in fortune, but it was not meant to be. Their cup exit to second tier side Rayo Vallecano sent them plummeting to a winless streak of seven games. Were it not for their bottom half competitors being equally dismal and a freak 2-1 win over Real Madrid before the season’s suspension, Betis could be in the bottom three.

Player to watch: Nabil Fekir – Fekir arrived at Betis in what was considered a shock move from Lyon. The Frenchman has not disappointed, with seven goals and six assists. A talismanic figure has emerged from a tricky campaign and if Betis hope to maintain La Liga status, the Frenchman’s form will need to continue as such.


League position: 13th

Next match: Valencia (A)

Manager: Paco López

Top scorer: Roger Martí – 11

Story so far: Seven points from nine in their last three home games would have given them some confidence of moving up the table. One of the more experienced sides in La Liga, with Ruben Rochina and Jose Morales, a mid-table finish isn’t beyond Paco López’s team. Levante’s Ciutat de Valencia is now a building site, so they will play their six remaining home games 150 kilometres down the east coast at the Estadi Olimpic Camilo Cano in La Nucia, Alicante. A tough run-in sees them start away to cross-city rivals Valencia at Mestalla.

Player to watch: José Luis Morales – the tricky winger is club captain and a joy to watch. Not blessed with pace now that he’s 32, but always looking to take the full-back on and get the ball into Levante’s front two. A wonderstrike from Morales against Real Madrid in February sealed a famous home win for the Frogs. 


League position: 14th

Next match: Espanyol (A)

Manager: Asier Garitano

Top scorer: Lucas Pérez – 11

Story so far: The men from Mendizorroza can take confidence from wins over Basque neighbours Athletic Club and Eibar in their last six games, which have kept them seven points above the dropzone. Striker Lucas Pérez has been the standout player alongside fellow frontman Joselu (9 goals). A team that possesses strikers in goalscoring form gives them a chance of avoiding the drop this season. 

Player to watch: Lucas Pérez – the former West Ham United has scored 38% of his side’s league goals. Keeping the 31-year-old fit will be key on moving further away from the danger zone. 

Real Valladolid

League position: 15th

Next match: Leganés (A)

Manager: Sergio González

Top scorer: Sergi Guardiola – 6

Story so far: Ronaldo Nazario’s club seemed to have spent the entire season hovering about the bottom three. The draw specialists, 11 in 27 games, converting draws into wins could be the difference as they continue to look over their shoulder at the five clubs below. 

Player to watch: Mohammed Salisu – Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid have both reportedly shown interest in signing the imposing centre-back. Calm and composed, a summer move looks imminent for the young leader at the back. The 21-year-old is still learning his trade at the Castilian club and is one for the future. 


League position: 16th

Next match: Real Madrid (A)

Manager: José Luis Mendilibar

Top scorer: Fabián Orellana – 7

Story so far: Eibar currently have the worst form in the league, having only picked up one win in their last seven games. Still far from safe and they face a tricky start away to Real Madrid. It’s time for a turnaround at Ipurua. 

Player to watch: Fabián Orellana – the former Valencia and Celta Vigo winger has shown his quality in the opening 27 games. A constant threat down either flank. He has scored seven goals and registered six assists, and is the Basque club’s top scorer. Tricky, fast and with an eye for a pass, the Chilean could be instrumental in keeping Mendilibar’s men up. 

Celta Vigo

League position: 17th

Manager: Óscar García

Top scorer: Iago Aspas – 9

Story so far: The sales of Maxi Gomez and Stanislav Lobotka have been hugely damaging. As if enough pressure wasn’t already on Iago Aspas to drag Celta to annual survival. Losing the man who seemed destined to replace him for a mediocre fee in Gomez and not replacing him until January with a 30-year-old Fedor Smolov, can only be described as a self-inflicted implosion. This has left them precariously one point above the drop, with a determined and financially driven Espanyol to fend off for 11 more games.

Player to watch: Denis Suárez – believe it or not, Suárez turned 26 this year, the Spaniard has a plethora of top clubs on his resume from Manchester City to Barcelona and more recently a strange loan move to Arsenal. Since coming to Celta, as the northern club’s marquee signing, the gifted midfielder has been able to get back to what he loves doing, playing football. Featuring an amazing assist against Real Madrid, if Suarez can reach top form, there’s hope that the Galician side can survive for another year in the Primera Division.


League position: 18th

Next match: Barcelona (H)

Manager: Vicente Moreno 

Top scorer: Ante Budimir – 9

Story so far: The newly-promoted islanders have struggled to climb up the table since returning to La Liga. Languishing in and around the bottom three for most of the season, they may just be lacking the quality necessary to stay in the division. 44 goals conceded, the second most in the league, hasn’t helped their chances. 11 finals await them and first up is the tricky visit of Barcelona. 

Player to watch: Takefusa Kubo – the Japanese wonderkid on loan from Real Madrid is a joy to watch. Quick, light, and skillful, he glides past full-backs like they’re not there. A player with a big future in the game. Only turned 19 in June and may get more time out on loan if Mallorca manage to survive. 


League position: 19th

Next match: Real Valladolid (H)

Manager: Javier Aguirre

Top scorer: Óscar Rodríguez – 7

Story so far: Javier Aguirre came in and steadied the ship as they were all but down under former coach Mauricio Pellegrino. Aguirre, a savvy veteran, has instilled a belief in the south Madrid side. The relegation-threatened club controversially lost top scorer Martin Braithwaite to Barcelona midway through the season. An unfair move that may prove critical in the coming weeks. Using his mandatory €18m buyout clause, Barca added the Dane as an emergency injury replacement. They received permission to do so outside the transfer window because Ousmane Dembele suffered a long-term injury. Los Pepineros had no choice in the matter and couldn’t sign a replacement of their own.

Player to watch: Óscar Rodríguez – the Real Madrid loanee has impressed this season with seven goals from midfield. Lethal from dead ball situations, the 21-year-old will be hoping to keep the club afloat with some more big performances before the end of the season. Just three points from safety, the relegation dogfight could go to the last day of the season. 


League position: 20th

Next match: Alavés (H)

Manager: Abelardo

Top scorer: Raúl de Tomás – 4

Story so far: Espanyol are currently bottom and six points from safety, but will fancy their chances of staying in the league for another season as they have home games to come against fellow strugglers Leganés, Eibar and Celta Vigo on the final day of the season. Failing to get beyond 17th place throughout the whole season, it’s the position they will be aiming for come July 19. 

Player to watch: Raúl de Tomás – the €20m January transfer window signing will be hoping to keep the Catalan club up. The former Rayo Vallecano striker quickly became the club’s top scorer within just a few weeks of joining from Benfica. Espanyol, who have stayed in the top-flight since 1994, currently sit rock bottom and will be nervously anticipating a last-ditch effort to save the club.


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