By Tim Stannard
"They've returned like a shot" declared Barcelona boss, Quique Setien, ahead of Saturday's match against Mallorca
From beginning the year by cow-gazing, to dealing with having his Barcelona players at home for two months due to a global pandemic, to having to win LaLiga in a whirlwind month of one match every three games. While members of Barcelona's board resigned on mass. It's been quite a six months for Barcelona boss, Quique Setien.
But with Barca's return to action against Mallorca just three days away, the Spanish coach is in high-spirits fighting-talk mode about the readiness levels of his team. And they are pretty good apparently. "They've returned like a shot," boomed Setien to Cope and Radio MARCA. "Apart from [Samuel] Umtiti, they've returned better than they were before."
Indeed, rather than complain about a lack of preparation time with full group training only just being permitted, the Barca boss is boasting that "we're going to be a fresher team than in March."
Whether Lionel Messi is in the bracket remains to be seen with Setien admitting that extra care is being taken with the Argentine due to the fact that "a fortnight out means four games out" in the new accelerated timetable.
Barcelona takes on Mallorca on Saturday with coverage beginning live on beIN SPORTS at 3:30PM ET / 12:30PM PT.
Sevilla and Betis get ready for La Primera's restart
La Primera returns in just one day and it's a humdinger to kick things off - the Seville city derby between Sevilla and Betis. Coverage will begin on beIN SPORTS on Thursday from 3:30PM ET / 12:30PM PT.
The first step in that restart process began on Wednesday at around midday in Spain with the press conference of Sevilla manager, Julen Lopetegui. The next step was the traditional sitting on the fence on the chances of his team against Betis. Sevilla are currently third in the standings with Betis way off the pace in twelfth.
"No favorites exist in a derby," said the former Real Madrid manager. The main doubt for his team is the fitness of Argentine midfielder, Lucas Ocampos, who has been a standout with ten league goals this season. Lopetegui said a decision would be made on the player's fitness on Thursday.
The Sports Burst live show will be making bold predictions on this clash as well as picking the best goalkeeper in LaLiga. Go to our beIN SPORTS USA Facebook page and beIN XTRA channel at 12PM ET / 9AM PT.
Spain sets rules for fans returning to stadiums
From no soccer at all until September, to soccer with no fans in the stands, to talk now of soccer with supporters. This season.
The rapid recovery of LaLiga - and indeed the handling of the COVID-19 outbreak in Spain - has lead to serious talk that fans could be able to watch games in LaLiga's stadiums in July for the final rounds of the competition.
However, there would be quite a lot of hurdles to overcome. Only a third of grounds at most would be able to be filled with strict social distancing guidelines. Also, current no-fans restrictions would only be lifted when every single region in the country is in the same situation, says the Spanish government. It's either all-in, or all-out.
Meanwhile the immediate focus is on stopping supporters gathering outside grounds. That challenge starts on Thursday with both Sevilla and Betis asking supporters to watch the derby from home and not gather outside their stadiums.
"The most footballing city in Spain must live up to the occasion," declared Sevilla club president, Jose Castro.
Jovic "not 100% focussed on Madrid" says Pedja Mijatovic
Former Real Madrid player and also sporting director, Pedja Mijatovic, has opined on the first year at the club of Luka Jovic, which has not exactly been a success.
The Serbian striker arrived last summer for a $66 million fee from Eintracht Frankfurt, scored just two league goals, apparently fell off a wall during quarantine to break his foot and miss the rest of the season. And had an unwise BBQ.
"It seems that he was not 100% focussed on the idea of succeeding with Real Madrid," said Mijatovic. Real Madrid's season restart begins in the Alfredo di Stefano stadium against Eibar on Sunday with coverage of the game beginning at 1PM ET / 10AM PT.
Rayo and Albacete wrap up match five months later
Spanish soccer sort of very unofficially restarts on Wednesday. Today. Call it a strange soft launch.
In fact, it's a really strange 45-minute soft launch in the suburbs of Madrid as Rayo Vallecano and Albacete play out the second half of a match that was abandoned back in December. Oh, and Albacete are already down to 10 men due to a red card.
The original game was abandoned at halftime with the scores at 0-0 due to issues with Rayo fans accusing Albacete's Ukrainian forward Roman Zozulya of being a Nazi. "There is nothing weirder," admitted Albacete head coach, Lucas Alcaraz, on the whole situation.
It's a long story. But it continues on beIN SPORTS CONNECT at 2PM ET / 11AM PT.
Man United friendly called off after Stoke City coach tests positive for COVID-19
Complications have already arisen with trying to play competitive team sport in the middle of global pandemic. Manchester United were forced on Tuesday to very quickly call off a practice match with English Championship side, Stoke City.
Indeed, Stoke had already arrived for the game but then results of COVID-19 tests made on the Stoke City camp came through and it was discovered that head coach, Michael O'Neill, had tested positive.
The club announced that the team's assistant coach, Billy McKinlay, will lead training ahead of the club's restart match on June 20 while O'Neill goes into self isolation.
Roger Federer says game, set and match for 2020
With Wimbledon already scrapped, the future of the remaining two Grand Slams of 2020 in the air and a host of other ATP tournaments cancelled, Roger Federer has picked a good year to write off completely.
The Swiss player - officially the highest paid athlete in the world - has announced that he will be missing the rest of 2020 having had further surgery on his right knee, due a rehabilitation setback. The 38-year-old declared cheerfully that he will "look forward to seeing everyone back on tour at the start of the 2021 season."