La Liga returns this weekend but giants Real Madrid and Barcelona will not feature. Real pipped Barca to the title last year, with both sides having to wait before getting their new campaigns underway.
Why are Real Madrid and Barcelona not playing in La Liga opening weekend?
Real and Barca won’t be involved in the opening round of fixtures due to finishing their seasons late.
Both sides were involved in the latter stages of the delayed Champions League, with Real Madrid reaching the last 16 while Barcelona were knocked out in the quarter-finals.
The La Liga champions begin their title defence against Real Sociedad on Sunday, September 20.
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The Catalan side won’t be in action until September 27, when they host Villarreal.
After winning the league last year with a relentless final sprint, Real are betting on practically the same group of players as they seek to successfully defend a domestic crown for the first time since 2008.
With their finances squeezed by the coronavirus pandemic and their squad already well rounded, Real have had neither the resources nor the desire this summer to make ‘galactico’ signings for which they are renowned.
The only new addition to Zinedine Zidane’s squad looks to be Norwegian midfielder Martin Odegaard, who returns after spending the last few years on loan across Europe before coming of age with a splendid campaign in La Liga with Sociedad.
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Odegaard adds yet more intelligence and class to a midfield already packed with talent and experience, and will help ease the creative burden on Toni Kroos, 30, and Luka Modric, who has just turned 35.
Real also have an outstanding defence, conceding only 25 times last season, and are well covered in every position.
If there is one area of concern for Zidane’s side it is in attack, with a huge gap existing between Karim Benzema and his fellow forwards.
Benzema, who played more minutes than anyone in the team last term, was Real’s leading scorer by some distance with 22 goals, followed by defender Sergio Ramos on 11.
Vinicius Jr was the second top-scoring forward with three goals, while €60million striker Luka Jovic netted twice and injury-plagued Eden Hazard, who cost over €100m.
Hazard has a lot of work to do to justify his price tag and is already facing criticism in the Spanish media due to his fitness levels, while the exciting-yet-raw Vinicius needs to improve on his goalscoring.
Zidane, however, has always said the fact that his team can find goals from all over the pitch is a virtue.
If he can sustain the bloody-minded determination to win games even without playing well which was on display so often last term, his side have an excellent chance of defending their title.
The state of Real’s rivals will also give them plenty of reasons to believe.
Barcelona are still reeling from a dismal finale to the season and are in the middle of a squad overhaul led by new coach Ronald Koeman amid the Lionel Messi transfer saga, which appears to be resolved for at least another year.
Having watched in frustration as Barca have dominated La Liga for more than a decade, Real could hardly ask for better conditions to start building a domestic dynasty of their own.
Atletico Madrid and Sevilla will also miss the start of the season due to the involvement in European competition.
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