Just two points separated Real Madrid and Barcelona at the top of La Liga when play was halted back in March.
And both sides got back off to the perfect start as they secured comfortable wins in their first matches back after the three-month break. Barça ran out 4-0 winners against Mallorca before Los Blancos overcame Eibar 3-1 to keep up the pressure on their rivals.
With so few games remaining and with so little to separate the two sides, whoever faltered first would hand a significant advantage to their rivals.
And this is exactly what Barcelona did on Friday night.
La Blaugrana secured a 2-0 win over Leganes in the match prior to make it six points from six since the restart, but they were held to a 0-0 draw by Sevilla on Friday. This clash was key for Barça for a number of reasons, notably due to the fact that it was their first of five challenging fixtures to come.
Their loss is Real’s gain, however.
Should Los Blancos manage to claim all three points against Real Sociedad in their next fixture, they will move level on points with Barça at the top of the table. This is a Real team that have looked sharp since the restart, with their last result being a convincing 3-0 win over Valencia. This was a statement result against a team who were expected to pose a real threat – but they made light work of them.
Perhaps what will have pleased Zinedine Zidane the most since play got back underway is the number of players that have stepped up and delivered, giving the Frenchman a selection headache (the good one, though). Most notably, Eden Hazard has looked much more like the player Real forked out £100m+ on last summer, contributing two assists in his two appearances.
Elsewhere, Marcelo started the opening game and grabbed himself a goal, but he was replaced in the starting lineup by Ferland Mendy for the clash with Valencia. The left-back was tasked with keeping Ferran Torres quiet, and he did exactly that.
All over the pitch, in each position, Real Madrid have a number of outstanding talents competing for one starting role. Marco Asensio also made his comeback from a serious, long-term injury against Valencia, scoring with his first touch.
Real Madrid are a team seemingly only getting stronger with each passing day, but they will have to overcome another stern test should they wish to capitalise on Barça’s slip up. However, Real Sociedad don’t come into Sunday’s game in good form, having failed to win their first two games back.
Their first game saw them drop points against mid-table Osasuna, before being defeated 2-0 by Alaves. Against Alaves, they also failed to manage a single shot on target.
Zidane has a number of tough calls to make, but a win against Sociedad would do so much more than just put them level on points with Barcelona. It would boost the players’ confidence, while it would also impact the morale of the Barça squad. Following Friday’s draw with Sevilla, Gerard Pique came out and admitted that it will now be ‘very difficult’ for his side to win the league as he can’t see Madrid dropping many points.
Over the course of the 2019/20 season, one of the main (and only) criticisms of Real Madrid has been their over-reliance on Karim Benzema’s goals, with the rest of the squad failing to contribute much in attack. Indeed, Barcelona went into the enforced break having scored 63 goals in 27 matches, while Madrid managed just 49 goals from the same number.
In contrast, at the back, Los Blancos conceded 12 fewer goals (just 19) than Barcelona in their first 27 games each. However, the return of both Hazard and Asensio in attack has been a major boost for Real and they have looked menacing going forward since the restart. This, mixed with the fact that they have continued to look resolute at the back, makes Los Blancos a very tough opposition to beat in the remaining games.
Make no mistake about it, Real do not have the easiest run-in, but nor do Barça. Therefore, the importance of capitalising on their rival’s slip up last time out cannot be understated.
The door has been left open for Real Madrid, and they now need to take advantage. A win over Real Sociedad would be the win they need to put themselves in the driving seat, and in control of the title race.
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