BARCELONA (Reuters) - As many as 10 La Liga sides will be fighting for their top-flight futures when the season restarts this week after a long pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with league mainstays Espanyol facing the biggest threat of relegation.
The Barcelona side have been in the top-flight for 85 out of 89 seasons including the last 26 years, but despite finishing seventh last year and reinvesting over 50 million euros (44.75 million pounds) in their squad, they have spent most of the campaign in the bottom three.
The Catalans were bottom of the standings on 20 points, six short of the safety zone, when the season was halted in March with 11 matches remaining.
They face an intimidating run-in featuring five games against the league’s top seven sides, including matches with Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Their must-win home matches against fellow strugglers Celta Vigo, Eibar and Leganes, meanwhile, will be tougher than usual without their supporters roaring them on as the games will be held without spectators for safety reasons.
Yet coach Abelardo Fernandez, their third manager of the season, believes the long break will have benefited his side.
“We’ve come back with renewed energy, with enthusiasm and we have cleared our minds,” he told reporters last week.
“Now we have 11 matches in five weeks, the time is going to go by very quickly and it’s going to be all out war.”
Above Espanyol in 19th place are Leganes on 23 points, with Real Mallorca occupying the last place in the drop zone on 25 as they try to avoid an immediate return to the second tier after winning promotion last year.
Celta Vigo, in 17th on 26 points, are another big-name club nervously looking over their shoulders while above them in 16th on 27 are Eibar, the smallest club in the league who have spent the last six seasons in the top-flight.
Real Valladolid are 15th on 29 while Alaves, Levante, Real Betis and Osasuna, in 14th to 11th respectively, have a little more breathing room but will not be able to sleep soundly until they have guaranteed their top-flight status.
Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Toby Davis