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Spanish football makes its long-awaited return

La Rosaleda. Malaga's stadium will remain empty for tonight's  match against Huesca.
La Rosaleda. Malaga's stadium will remain empty for tonight's match against Huesca. / SALVADOR SALAS
  • Malaga return to the field at La Rosaleda later tonight as the longest Segunda season on record restarts after almost 100 days

The football is finally back. After almost a hundred days without any action due to the coronavirus pandemic lockdown across the country, matches in Spain's top two leagues returned this week, with the abandoned Rayo Vallecano-Albacete match kickstarting Segunda on Wednesday, followed by the Seville derby on Thursday night in Primera.

Spanish football makes its long-awaited return

In the case of Segunda, this will be the longest edition in its entire history at 350 days. It began on 17 August 2019 and is expected to conclude on 2 August 2020 with the second leg of the play-off final.

For Malaga, they return to action tonight (Friday) when they host Huesca (kick off 7.30pm). It is their first match in 96 days since losing 1-0 at home to Real Zaragoza on 8 March.

It's hard to predict in what shape side will be, given that all have spent more than three months, a period longer than any preseason, without so much as even playing a friendly game.

Everything still to play for

With 33 points still up for grabs, every team still has something to play for. For the majority of teams, all aspirations are still possible. Ponferradina, for example, are tenth in the table with 40 points, six points off the play-off places but only five points above the relegation zone.

Malaga, meanwhile, are in 15th place, eight points off the play-offs. But with margins so tight, any team knows that a bad run of form during this intensive period of 11 games in 37 days (the normal phase of the season finishes on 19 July) could see any team still be relegated.

One team which will find it difficult, however, is bottom side Racing Santander on 28 points - seven from safety. Extremadura (31 points) and Lugo (34) are also up against it, but have much more room to manoeuvre given how close together the teams just above the relegation zone are (Deportivo, Albacete and Oviedo are all level on 35 points.

Spanish football makes its long-awaited return

Numancia, Malaga and Las Palmas (tied on 38 points) aren't safe either, nor Fuenlabrada (39) who went from being fourth in the first half of the season to freefall after the winter break.

Promotion favourites

At the other end of the table, Cadiz and Real Zaragoza remain the strongest candidates for automatic promotion.

Cadiz are the current leaders but 2020 has been unkind as they gave up the 10-point lead at the top of the table that they had amassed by match day 14. In any case, they still have a six-point lead over third-placed Almeria.

While they remain on course for promotion, Zaragoza, should they maintain their pre-lockdown form, led by in-form striker Luis Suárez with 17 goals (and heavily linked to Lazio), will be favourites to go up as champions.

The play-off places are currently occupied by top scorers Almeria (51), tied on 50 points with Huesca. Girona and Elche, who are in severe financial difficulties, trail on 47 and 46 points, respectively.

Spanish football makes its long-awaited return

The challengers could be any of the trailing cohort, from seventh-placed Mirandés to Numancia in 16th, separated by just four points.

Numerous absentees

The unusual circumstances (a long break followed by an intensive but unconventional training programme) has seen clubs with increasing concerns regarding the risk of injuries.

While sides will be permitted to make five substitutions, Malaga (particularly affected with Cristo Romero, Dani Pacheco, Mohamed Benkhemassa and Badr Boulahroud all on the treatment table) have led calls for rules regarding professional players (a minimum of six must be on the field at all times) to be relaxed.

With only 18 players on professional contracts, three of whom are injured and another, Esteban Rolón, completely out of favour, it will be extremely difficult for coach Sergio Pellicer to name an eligible side on a regular basis without exposing players to unnecessary risk.

Home advantage gone?

With all matches to be played behind closed doors, another interesting aspect will be whether playing at home still continues to be an advantage. Numbers from the Bundesliga, the only major league to have restarted so far, show that in the first 37 matches, there were only eight home wins.

However, with La Liga calculating that the absence of fans could come at a combined cost of 700 million euros for Primera and Segunda teams, the clamour to allow fans back inside grounds before the end of the season has been gaining momentum. This week, the possibility of allowing stadiums to be 30 per cent full has been mooted but much depends on all parts of Spain being in the same phase of lockdown easing.