Sports

La Liga kicks off again this evening – to empty stadiums

La Liga finally kicks off in Spain again this evening after 93 days since matches were suspended on 12 March, with each of the top leagues 20 clubs to now play their final 11 games behind closed doors. There will be matches played nearly every day for the next 39 days – concluding on Sunday 19 July.

Sevilla host Real Betis this evening under strict health and safety guidelines against the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. The derby will be played with only 270 people allowed inside the stadium, including club players and staff, doctors and security personnel, club officials, as well as press and technicians.

Over the next 11 games, all players will be tested for Coronavirus within 24 hours of kick-off. Visiting teams will be using exclusive flights and hotels, before travelling to stadiums in two buses to ensure that social distancing is maintained. Home team players must arrive at the stadiums in their own cars.

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All players will have their temperatures taken before entering stadiums and must arrive wearing face masks and gloves. All communal areas such as changing rooms have to be disinfected before, during and after games.

La Liga president Javier Tebas said Weve planned everything to the last millimetre. He had previously said that cancellation of La Liga would have cost the clubs a billion eurosand that no team would have been spared.

Even with the season about to resume, Barcelona and Real Madrid have had to impose further pay cuts. Atletico Madrid also said they enforced a drop in wages to guarantee their future.

ALSO READ: FC Barcelona players agree to 70% pay cut, and will ensure staff receive 100%

The Spanish government had insinuated that re-starting La Liga would be good for the countrys morale, with prime minister Pedro Sánchez often referring to the issue of its return in his televised addresses.

Some regions in Spain have moved faster through the governments four phase de-escalation of lockdown restrictions than others, and Tebas has said he is in favour of clubs bringing supporters back when they can.

The leagues initial timetable is for 30% of fans to return in September, 50% in November and 100% from January 2021.

In re-starting the matches from today, La Liga has had to work very closely with Spains regional health authorities, and in particular the central Health Ministry.

Tebas has insisted that the risk of infection once games are in play is practically zero given the amount of physical contact – but the summer heat in Spain is now a major consideration with regards kick-off times.

Fixture lists now come with temperature predictions and two kick-off times have already been adjusted. Five substitutes will be allowed instead of three, as well as two drinks breaks.

During the match, fans watching on TV will be able to choose to adopt a virtual experience that puts images of seated supporters wearing the colours of the home team in the stands.

There will also be artificial sound — taken from the computer game FIFA, using audio recorded from real matches — that will then be adapted according to the flow of each match

Tributes will be paid to the victims and heroes of the Coronavirus pandemic, in the form of a minutes silence before kick-off.

Barça players training at Camp Nou on 6 June 2020. (Miguel Ruiz / FC Barcelona)

Little separates teams at both ends of La Liga

On the pitch itself, there is very little separating the teams at both ends of the league. Barcelona currently lie top, on 58 points, but hot on their heels are a Real Madrid side who are just two worse off than the Catalan giants.

But the title race certainly isnt the only focal point of interest during the final run-in of 11 games. The tussle for the European spots has never been so fierce. Sevilla are sitting in third after having enjoyed an outstanding campaign, but just one point behind the Andalusians are two sides that have proved that theyre real forces to be reckoned with: Real Sociedad and Getafe, tied on 46 points.

Coming in just behind them is Atletico Madrid, who are looking to gatecrash the top spots during the course of the 11 remaining matches.

As for the battle to avoid relegation, Mallorca, Leganes and Espanyol are the three sides to have amassed the fewest points so far this term. But with over 30 points still to play for, anything can change.

Barça will be playing their home matches in the biggest and emptiest stadium in Europe, after Real Madrid switch to a different home altogether.

Instead of their 81,000-capacity Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid city-centre, which is under renovation this summer, Real Madrid will play at the 6,000-seater Alfredo di Stefano Stadium, usually the home of the clubs reserve and under-18 teams.

Last Saturday Barça had their first full training session back at Camp Nou – and Real Madrid have also been trying to acclimatise, with Zinedine Zidane overseeing regular meetings at their new ground.

Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Sergio Busquets, Gerard Pique, Sergi Roberto, Jordi Alba and Marc-Andre ter Stegen all played at an empty Camp Nou against Las Palmas in October 2017, when the club closed its doors in protest against the game being played during the political unrest and police action during the Catalan referendum.