Andy Brassell On European Football: Spain and Italy return
Spanish and Italian football get back underway this week but Portugal's slow restart reminds us that getting back to one's best can take time, writes Andy Brassell.
Spain starts again in style
In the planning stages of La Liga's restart president Javier Tebas promised football "every day" and now, as the competition restarts, we know he really meant it. Thursday night's curtain-raiser between Sevilla and Real Betis begins a run of 15 consecutive days of action - which will likely extend to longer when subsequent matches are scheduled with times and dates - so it's good to figure out what's happening in the opening days.
El Gran Derbi is quite a way to kick things off, the biggest local rivalry in Spain, and with the intensity that will no doubt envelop the game as always it's best to stay away from backing Sevilla at just 1.94, even given the disparities between the two sides this season - and especially with the inspirational Lucas Ocampos struggling for fitness.
The focus switches to the top two at the weekend and Barcelona have had better injury news ahead of the trip to Mallorca, with Lionel Messi taking a full part in training. We will also get an early suggestion of how moving venues might affect Real Madrid as they face Eibar, badly out of form before the hiatus, at the tiny Estádio Alfredo Di Stéfano with the Bernabéu having work done. Could the less grand surroundings make a difference in a tight title race.
Back the draw between Sevilla and Betis at3.90
Ronaldo ready for Milan
It's time to begin again in Italy too, although it's a soft relaunch as we have the second leg of the semi-finals of the Coppa Italia on Friday and Saturday this week and the final next Wednesday in Rome, before Serie A gets back underway on June 20.
Juventus' return leg with Milan is where it all starts on Friday (Inter travel to Napoli a day later with a goal deficit to make up from the first leg). Even though the first game at the San Siro was four months ago, many Rossoneri are still sore about the stoppage time penalty award that allowed Cristiano Ronaldo to make it 1-1.
It will be fascinating to see just how much influence Ronaldo is ready to exert. Early reports suggest he has returned from Madeira in formidable form, and there is little doubt he will have benefitted greatly from the pause from a physical perspective. Even though it's hard to make firm prognostics directly after such a break, it's worth noting that an empty Allianz Stadium isn't totally alien to Juve either. They played a huge match, the Derby d'Italia with Inter, behind closed doors there in March (and won) before calcio shut down. Bearing this in mind, their position as strong favourites to win back the Coppa is wholly justified.
Back Juventus to win the Coppa Italia at1.77
Slow start in Portugal
The renewed season is now a week old in Portugal, and it has begun again with a whimper rather than with a bang. Porto's shock loss at Famalicão on opening night heralded a round of matches in which none of the top four won, topped off by third-placed Braga going down to a stoppage-time goal at Santa Clara, the side from the Azores playing nearly 1,000km from home.
Porto should make short work of lowly Marítimo at the Dragão (they are just 1.19 to win) but the question of Benfica's trip south to Portimonense is a more nuanced one. Bruno Lage's team remain huge favourites against the second-bottom side 1.45 but have been shaken by recent events.
A goalless draw against Tondela at the Estádio da Luz ceded the advantage in the title race - it took Benfica level on points with Porto but the latter win on head-to-head, so ignore current tables that place the champs top on goal difference - and then the team bus was attacked as it arrived back at the training centre. Julian Weigl and Andrija Zivković both suffered minor injuries. Benfica have only won one of the last nine in all competitions and Portimonense's 1-0 win over Gil Vicente last time out, courtesy of a Lucas Fernandes rocket, has renewed their hopes of staying up.