La Liga will return on June 12. That means many aspects of the footballing world will change, but, taking a broader picture from society, it might not be a bright idea.
Football has been put on hold for far too long. Surely that’s what every La Liga fan thought after watching the games in Germany last weekend. Well, today they got the good news: Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has given the greenlight to a return from the top flight on June 8, and thus La Liga may be returning on June 12.
After the Bundesliga’s triumphant return, La Liga supporters were eager to watch their teams battling it out for relegation, Europe or the title. Because one of the things that made this domestic campaign more exciting than before was the outstanding level of the individuals. While youngsters like Ansu Fati for Barcelona and Ferran Torres for Valencia were enjoying encouraging terms, with the former breaking records and the latter impressing continentally, veterans also displayed their class. Luka Modrić, Joaquín Sánchez or Santi Cazorla showed the way for the youngsters in their side, and the latter’s return to form was a joy to behold this season.
This excited La Liga fans, who had a superb season with many competitive teams playing some mesmeric football. Real Madrid had a great run of form before losing top spot against Betis on the last week before lockdown, and the merengues felt like they did not deserve to lose the league, as Thibaut Courtois stated. “It wouldn’t be fair to me if Barcelona were proclaimed champions”, the Belgian goalkeeper argued. Former Barça player and Courtois’ past teammate at Chelsea, Cesc Fàbregas, responded: “Everyone defends their own interests. But if La Liga stopped, as it has done in France, Barcelona would be worthy winners”.
La Liga president Javier Tebas was always optimistic about La Liga’s return | Photo by Juan Carlos Hidalgo via Imago
But that won’t be the case, since the 11 remaining matchdays in La Liga will be completed. Many sides will be looking to continue where they had left the competition. The Barcelona stars were beginning to understand Setién’s principles before lockdown happened. Striker Raúl de Tomás changed Espanyol completely, and they looked more likely to stay up with their January signing. Atlético de Madrid beat Liverpool and were in a hard-fought race for Champions League football with Valencia, Real Sociedad, Getafe and Sevilla.
Resuming La Liga is excellent for the rest of the contest. Viewers will finally see out a stressful season and everything will go back to normal, except one thing: the fans. The fans are one of the essential parts of the game. Without fans, nothing is genuinely the same in football and especially La Liga. Derbies, last-minute goals, last-ditch tackles. These are the moments that get the crowd going. It will be a bit sad that these moments will have to be played behind closed doors, but if it means La Liga comes back, fans are going to agree to it.
❛ The only irreplaceable thing in football is fans. Football is the people ❜
Moreover, financially speaking, the return of the beautiful game is great. Without football, teams have struggled. Most players have taken wage cuts, but for some clubs, it wasn’t enough. Over at Rayo Vallecano, coach Paco Jémez was unhappy with the directives for disrespecting its employees. Meanwhile, the return of football was not welcomed by some footballers. Players like Watford’s captain Troy Deeney have stated that they are scared to come back positive and infect their families, as the English forward has a young kid. It’s an understandable fear, and some were even against the idea of going back to training so prematurely.
The return of La Liga is a considerable deal sportively and financially speaking, but it’s too big of a sanitary risk. Yes, the Bundesliga has experienced some success with the return, but players are not immune to the virus. They will apparently go through two tests a week. But what if they test positive? What happens to the team? What happens to the season? Is there an emergency plan? Also, some people have broken lockdown rules. Like Fyodor Smolov for Celta de Vigo or Luka Jović for Real Madrid. What will be the deal with them?
And what about the teams that have suffered a lot from the virus? Staff members and footballers at Valencia were comprehensively taken ill after they played against Atalanta. How is the La Liga going to justify any potential absentees and what solutions do they have to all these questions? It seems like the return of La Liga could do more harm than good, and too many uncertainties revolve around it.
Football should be played the usual way, without restrictions and social distancing, even if it means the season needs to be cancelled. Two weeks ago, the Ligue 1 was suspended, and teams are now preparing for the next campaign, where football will be regular.
All in all, the return of La Liga is a superb financial and sporting move, but the people at the top should prioritise their players’ health more before caring about the industry’s wealth.
The pages are blotted with injuries, but Dembele’s Blaugrana story is far from over
Ousmane Dembele runs into the open space ahead of him on the right as Lionel Messi shimmies past a distraught Cesar Azpilicueta. Messi looks up, spots the Frenchman in ample room and nonchalantly passes it towards him. The youngster hurriedly takes the first touch and is left with just enough room to shoot. He then promptly takes it in his stride and fires it into the top left corner to make it 2-0, after which he immediately points towards the Argentinean great.
That was Ousmane Dembele’s first goal for Barcelona after a 4-month hiatus due to an unfortunate injury in his very first season with the Spanish giants. The Cules would’ve been hopeful of him finally coming into his own after that goal, potentially filling a large Neymar shaped hole. Fast forward a couple of seasons and the dynamic Frenchman has failed to make a real impact like people would have hoped of the explosive wonderkid who played for Dortmund.
While Dembele is still young at 23, injuries seem to have derailed his career with Barcelona. Last season Dembele ambled to a meagre 9 appearances in the Blaugrana colours, only 5 of which were starts. Whenever he did play, he looked rusty and lacking game time. Moreover, the emergence of youngster Ansu Fati who presents a similar profile to the Frenchman means more competition, and with him coming off another injury recently and Fati looking grand in the 2-0 victory over Villarreal, his chances of sealing a regular spot look bleak at the moment. It is, therefore, no surprise that Dembele is linked with a move away from Spain, with Manchester United seemingly keeping him on their radar.
Barcelona manager Ronald Koeman, though, could use someone like Dembele. In his first official game in charge, Koeman structured Barca in a 4-2-3-1, with Messi and Coutinho occupying central areas and Fati and Antoine Griezmann occupying the left and right flank respectively. The wingers would regularly tuck in and allow the fullbacks to push up in the broader areas. In an otherwise comfortable 4-0 win for Barcelona, the right flank was a vital issue. Griezmann looked mostly average and did not influence the match much, barring making a handful of runs into the box. He lacked the same explosiveness and directness that Ansu Fati provided on the left flank – looking out of sorts on the right side, having rarely made an appearance in such a role in the past.
If injuries allow him, Dembele could seal his spot in such an eleven. The Frenchman’s primary strength is his skills on the ball, and he loves taking on defenders 1v1. Considering his 18/19 season as his sample size, he stood at 4.81 dribbles completed per 90 with a completion percentage of 67.4 in La Liga. On the other hand, Griezmann had a low 0.64 successful dribbles per 90 in the past season, with a completion percentage of 48.6. Moreover, the 23-year-old dominates in touches in the box, averaging 7.68 touches in the box per 90 as compared to Griezmann. Granted, the 29-year-old is a different kind of player altogether, and could potentially be better utilized in a more central role similar to the one he had with Atletico Madrid, but as things stand, Dembele is the one who provides the directness and explosiveness Koeman is looking for from his wingers. Moreover, his ambidexterity and pace mean he 1. is a threat from either wing, and 2. can pull off the unexpected every now and then, for example, his famous fake shot.
From a creative standpoint, Dembele had 4.65 Shot creating actions and 0.70 Goal creating actions per 90 in 18/19, while Griezmann stood at 2.08 GCA and 0.35 GCA per 90 last season. Moreover, Dembele can also occupy the wider areas and stick to the sidelines when needed – adding to his ability to create space without the ball. This option is unavailable with Griezmann, as he is more intent towards occupying the middle, and is therefore limited in that sense. Even when it comes to defensive actions, Dembele can come toe-to-toe with Griezmann, with 4.43 successful pressure and 0.54 tackles won per 90 in the 18/19 season, as compared to Griezmann’s 4.77 successful pressures and 0.64 tackles won per 90 last season. This is very impressive since Griezmann has a reputation for being a workhorse, and often contributes to Barcelona’s defence.
It is safe to say that Dembele stands out as a great option as a winger, provided he overcomes his injury problems. Although Ansu Fati has stood out since his emergence last season, it is important not to burden the 17-year-old’s shoulders with huge expectations, lest he crumble. New signings Pedri and Trincao are also very talented but are diamonds in the rough. Barcelona must have someone in the side who can provide that tempestuousness and dynamism that they often lacked the previous season, but all while knowing the expectations the Catalan giants hold, even of young players. Ousmane Dembele’s Blaugrana story hasn’t been great so far; injuries botted the pages, but this might be the season to flip the page and start afresh for both him and Barcelona.