Even the greats see the benefit of a fresh start of sorts.
La Liga leaders Barcelona have had an up-and-down season despite their statuses atop the Spain’s top flight and as a Champions League quarterfinalist.
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Much of the acrimony has been off-the-field — the boardroom is a mess — but clubs like Barca are sometimes measured by how their victories look rather than simply coming out on top.
“Playing like we did in the matches before play was stopped, we would never win the Champions League,” Messi said. “I have no doubts about my teammates and that we can win it all, but not in the way we had been playing.”
La Liga is still waiting for the go-ahead to return in Spain, one of Europe’s four biggest leagues to have not canceled its campaign.
Here are sides from each of those divisions — England, Spain, Italy, and Germany — who can best use the break to affect change in seasons that were challenged well before the coronavirus pandemic started its harrowing run through the world.
La Liga: As much as Messi would like to see Barca bounce back, it’s true Madrid-based rivals need it even more. Atletico Madrid may have pushed Liverpool out of the Champions League, but it was 2W-4D-2L in its last eight league matches to dip sixth on the table. Atleti is only two points out of third and hasn’t finished lower than that since 2011-12.
But Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid needs it more. The team is pound-for-pound better than Barca for the first time in ages but had taken just four of 16 points before the coronavirus pause. And both Madrid clubs will be heartened by the fact that Barca had been surging apart from its March 1 El Clasico loss at the Bernabeu. Reversal of fortunes?
Bundesliga: This one’s pretty straightforward. Schalke was set to play the Revierderby at Dortmund on the heels of a seven-match winless streak that featured a combined score line of 15-2 and sent the club to precipice of falling out of European competition.
David Wagner’s men were in third place after 13 weeks and sixth after 25. Schalke can now take a deep breath in a now-empty Westfalenstadion and hope a notable derby win can firm up its European plans.
Serie A: Whereas Juventus has been mostly sound in Serie A and Lazio has been unbeatable in the league since late September, the Milan sides have been struggling. We’ll focus on Inter Milan, because Antonio Conte’s men still have a shot to get back into the title fight.
Leaders at three separate times this season, Inter lost its last two leagues before the pause and has just four wins from its last 11 outings in Serie A. Still comfortably set up for the Champions League next season, Inter has a match-in-hand and will not meet first-place Juve or second-place Lazio. It’s going to have to be win upon win upon win.
Premier League: There are arguments to be made for teams at both sides of the table, but this one feels fairly straightforward. Tottenham Hotspur sits eighth in the Premier League, and that’s a sickening feeling because not only had they been poor and unlucky with injury but Spurs were given leeway by the teams around them who had — for the most part — failed to seize the day. Tottenham was without Harry Kane and Heung-min Son for a bit and new star Steven Bergwijn thought his season had ended after a 1-1 draw with Burnley left Spurs with one point from nine.
There have been highs and lows for Spurs even during the coronavirus pause, their stadium brilliantly serving as a hospital but also challenges from its players in the observation of social distancing. Say what you will about Jose Mourinho, but he’s a manager who can diagram a win as well as most and he’s four points back of fifth and seven off the top four. The fixture list gives Spurs a chance to affect several teams above it but neither Liverpool nor Man City appear on the docket.