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'Injured La Liga players will benefit from break'

June 03, 2020 20:07 IST
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Barca's Luis Suarez returned to training last month. He had undergone a knee surgery in January after picking up an injury during the Spanish Super Cup match against Atletico Madrid. =

IMAGE: Barca's Luis Suarez returned to training last month. He had undergone a knee surgery in January after picking up an injury during the Spanish Super Cup match against Atletico Madrid. Photograph: FC Barcelona/Twitter

Former England star Steve McManaman feels that big clubs like Real Madrid and Barcelona, which feature top players and have big squads, will do better than others when the La Liga restarts next week behind closed doors amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lionel Messi's Barcelona and Real Madrid are at first and second position respectively in the 20-team standings after 27 matches each with two points separating them. Eleven rounds remain to be played. 

 

"The schedule is tight with just 5-6 weeks and so the teams with quality players and big squads, which have better player back-ups, will do better. Barcelona and Real Madrid have these and it is a very close race between the two at the top," McManaman said during a worldwide virtual press conference to mark the the return of La Liga on June 11.

"Those injured (in Barcelona and Real Madrid) are back. Everybody seemed to be fit and so they will benefit from the three months of break. I hope Real Madrid win the La Liga," said the former England midfielder, who won 37 international caps between 1994 and 2001.

McManaman, now 48, is considered one of the most decorated English footballers to have played for a club abroad. After nine years at Liverpool, he moved to Real Madrid in 1999.

At Real Madrid, he became the first English player to win the UEFA Champions League with a non-English club in 2000.

Two years later, he became the first English player to win the Champions League twice. He also won La Liga twice before moving to Manchester City in 2003.

La Liga organisers want to finish the season on the weekend of July 18-19 "depending on the evolution" of coronavirus.

McManaman said the important thing is to finish the league "without any disruption" or "another lockdown".

Former Spain and Barcelona midfielder Luis Garcia, who also spent one season at the Indian Super League side Atletico de Kolkata in 2014, said the players should avoid getting injured in the initial matches.

"The players had three months without playing and so they should not get injured in the first couple of matches. But the most important thing is their safety," he said.

He said the organisers have worked out an innovative project wherein fans from anywhere in the world can send their applause which will be replayed at the empty stadia to encourage the players.

"It is a fantastic project. Anybody around the world can send their applause on a website and La Liga will replay them in the stadia."

Former Uruguay and Atletico Madrid striker Diego Forlan, who also spent one season at ISL side Mumbai City FC in 2016, advised the players to follow the guidelines, like avoiding hugs and high fives, put in place in view of the global health crisis.

"It is about life and every other thing will have to be changed if we have to go back to normal life. We want to see the restart of La Liga but we need to respect the guidelines. It is for us and to help us."

Spain soccer restart on June 10 with second half of abandoned Rayo-Albacete match

The Spanish soccer season will restart a day earlier than originally planned on June 10 with the second half of a second division match between Rayo Vallecano and Albacete that was postponed last December due to offensive chanting.

A statement from the Spanish soccer federation said both sides had agreed to play the match from the second half without any spectators.

La Liga will start up again on June 11 without spectators after a three-month pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic with a local derby between Sevilla and Real Betis.

The Segunda Division will properly kick into action on June 12 with four matches.

The Rayo-Albacete match was goalless when it was abandoned at halftime after Rayo fans chanted against Albacete's Ukrainian forward Roman Zozulya, accusing him of being a Nazi and belonging to far-right groups in his home country.

It was the first and only time a Spanish football match has been abandoned for offensive chanting, even though racist chanting has taken place at several matches since, including Espanyol's January game with Athletic Bilbao.

Zozulya signed in 2017 for Rayo, whose hardcore fans identify with Spain's far-left and anti-fascist movements, but left the club without playing a match after supporters gave him a hostile reception at his first training session.

Zozulya has denied belonging to far-right groups.

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