La Liga Return: Julio 'Maldini' Maldonado's team-by-team guide
La Liga is back this week so here's Spanish football expert Maldini's guide to every team, why Barcelona are worthy title favourites, who faces relegation and much more...
Luis Suarez's comeback makes Barcelona worthy favourites again for the title. Despite not having a brilliant season, Barça are the most balanced team in La Liga. If we are talking about playing the final games of the season over a about month then once again Lionel Messi will be the key factor.
Barcelona are1.67 to be crowned champions.
Playing matches at their Valdebebas training complex could damage Real Madrid. With no fans, the gap between Bernabéu and Valdebebas is significant and the feeling just won't be the same. Away teams could be more comfortable without the pressure of the Bernabeu. Before the break Real Madrid had just one win in their last five games. They won El Clásico but lost against Levante and Betis and drew against Celta, as well as losing against Manchester City in the Champions League.
With Eden Hazard and Marco Asensio fully fit now the break could been a positive thing for head coach Zinedine Zidane. Of course Real Madrid could still win the title but they are not the strongest candidates.
Julen Lopetegui has had a fantastic first season at Seville. His team are good at keeping possession, know when to be more direct and have balance throughout the squad. The last defeat was against Celta with a comeback in the last minutes of the game. My feeling is that they are not going to fail in order to clinch a Champions League place.
Before the break, Real Sociedad were in a great shape, with a tremendous attacking squad. It's true Martin Odegaard has lost his best form, compared with the first fixtures of the season, but Isak and Mikel Merino are both in sensational form. It could be tough for them to secure a Champions League spot because they face Real Madrid and Sevilla, and also a visit to Getafe and Atletico.
With Jose Bordalás as their manager we cannot rule out Getafe qualifying for the Champions League. They have less options than other teams but they have a favourable fixture list: their next games are against Granada, Espanyol, Eibar and Valladolid - all of whom you could see them beating. I think Getafe will be fighting for a Champions League place until the last day of La Liga.
Getafe are2.70 to finish in the Champions League spots.
Atletico could be one of the teams with more problems playing their games without fans. They're one of the best home teams and there is a strong connection between their fans and players. However, Diego Simeone's tactics are a massive plus for them. They are a mentally strong squad and that could be a key factor in this context.
The return of Joao Felix and Diego Costa will also give them a boost. I think they are going to be one of the top four teams in La Liga and they will be a Champions League team next season.
Atletico are1.45 to finish in the Top Four.
I am not a fan of Albert Celades' work at Valencia. Despite winning against Betis after bad results, I think it is really tough to see Valencia again in Champions League next season. The match against Real Madrid, away at Valdebebas, could be a key game.
Despite bad results, losing three games in a row, I think Villarreal are going to fight until the last day for the Europa League place. With the break, I am sure the players have forgotten about their poor form and they also have Moreno, Cazorla, Alcácer and Bacca to help them now. They are an attacking team but they know how to defend. I think they will be a club to watch until the last day of competition.
The moment Granada lost against Athletic in the Copa del Rey could be the moment Granada finished their season. They still have chances to clinch a European place, they also are a strong team, but we need to see the motivation of the squad. I wouldn't be surprised to see Granada finish in mid-table.
They are more focused on the Copa del Rey final than La Liga and this could be a key factor if we talk about motivation. They are an unpredictable team, with top players like Raul Garcia (nine goals) and Iñaki Williams, but they can sometimes struggle to close out games. There is no a huge gap between them and a European place but their focus is on the cup.
Chimmy Avila's comeback could be crucial for Osasuna's motivation. They have a great atmosphere at home during La Liga games so we'll wait to see how they get on without fans. They're as close to the European places as they are to the relegation zone, so they need to secure their top-flight status as soon as possible in order to have a comfortable final few games.
The greatest disappointment of the season, if look we consider the strength of their squad. With Canales, Carvalho, Borja and Fekir they have a strong squad but they don't work so well together in La Liga. Sevilla's derby will be the key: if Betis are able to win against their local rival, they could have a chance to clinch a European place, although it will be really tough.
With 33 points, they have a good gap from the bottom places, but they need to focus on improving their defensive form. They suffer a lot in defence, it is really tough to see Levante ever keeping a clean sheet, although in Aitor they have one of the best goalkeepers in La Liga.
They have a good record in 2020, suffering just two defeats. They are always make it difficult for opponents and have no problem during a game when they need to wait until the last minute and then create a chance to score. With no fans, it could be a good strategy to play for several draws and secure another year in the top-flight.
Manager Sergio González has done great work this season. However, it was really tough for them in both defeats against the Basque teams. The game against Leganés is key: if they don't take a point it could be the end of Valladolid's chances of survival.
They take a lot of risks. During the opening weeks of the season they produced lots of ball recoveries but now they lack balance. They suffer a lot when they need to score goals despite Charles being in great shape before the break.
Eibar lost against Valencia and Real Sociedad and also they have a tough fixture list: away against Zinedine Zidane's Real Madrid, and a Basque derby against Athletic. They could struggle.
Eibar are3.25 to be relegated.
I think they are going to survive. In fact, before the break they went five games without losing. Their big problem is scoring goals (just 22). But I think the talent of Aspas, Smolov, Santi Mina and Rafinha will be enough to keep them in La Liga.
Vicente Moreno has done great work, especially as much of his squad is made up of players who were with the club when they were in the second division. Beating Eibar was massive for the team in order to sustain their motivation. They were getting some interesting results, a 3-3 draw against Betis for example, but with their squad it is really tough to see them surviving another year in this division.
Mallorca are1.30 to be relegated.
If there is one manager who can stay calm on the bench it is Javier Aguirre. Their victory against Villarreal was key because before that Leganes were having a difficult time. Those three points, and also the break, could help Aguirre motivate his players. I could see Leganes winning a lot games in a row and sending Valladolid or Eibar to the Second Division.
Lay Leganes at1.49 in the relegation market.
They are bottom and six points from safety - a huge gap with 11 games left. Abelardo Fernandez can produce miracles, as he proved at Alaves. However, Espanyol struggle when they need to clinch a win. They face Alaves, Levante, Leganés, Eibar - all direct rivals - but also have tough fixtures against Real Madrid, Real Sociedad, Barcelona and Valencia. It is really tough to see Espanyol staying up.