For football fans, the next week cannot come fast enough. From next Friday, June 12th, La Liga is set to resume again after a forced break of nearly three months due to the outbreak of coronavirus in Spain. Spain's premier football competition will restart amid closed doors with arch-rivals Barcelona and Real Madrid looking to be the favorites to win the trophy. While Catalans are at the top in the table at the moment, Zinedine Zidane's Real Madrid are just two points behind.
"I am not a betting man, not in sports or anything. But if you ask me who would I put my money on to win, it would have to be Barcelona," former Spanish midfielder Jofre Mateu tells Hindustan Times in an exclusive interview.
Jofre, a Barcelona graduate, had started his career with the club in 1997. Between 1998 and 2002, Jofre turned into a Barcelona senior team player but could only make two appearances for the club, before he was transferred to Levante where he made 101 appearances between 2002-2005. In 2014, Jofre came to India and played for Atletico Kolkata in 2014 in Indian Super League. He played for Goa between 2015-16.
Currently living at home in Barcelona, Jofre is eager for the La Liga to restart and wants his home club to win the title. "My money will always be on Barcelona. Not only because I am a Barcelona fan and supporter. I feel they have a very short advantage which can be useful."
The return for La Liga will be a different one this time as there will be no fans at the stadiums. Jofre says teams will have to be psychologically ready to adjust to a different environment from the offset.
"The feeling is not going to be the same without crowds. But if your team is playing for winning La Liga, or Champions League qualification or avoiding relegation, then it means the same," he says.
"I am very excited now it's starting again. People are expecting football, we are very excited to be a part of it. It's going to be different. The players will take some time to get used to the new rules and regulations and get involved with the new way to play," he adds.
There are still 11 games left for all the teams in La Liga, and with the need to finish the competition by next month, the remainder of the schedule will be a crunched one. Jofre believes this will give a chance for some of the youngsters to rise up among the ranks.
"We are probably ready to see young players because of the schedule. We are talking about someone like Ansu Fati. He's suitable for such quick conditions, and he could make a difference for Barcelona," Jofre says.
"It's something not new for many teams because they have played a lot of times in a week in the past as well. They need to have the stamina to compete and will need to take rest and be mentally prepared. We have to wait until August to see if there are injuries that take place. The will of the team and the players will matter the most in these conditions," he adds.
Jofre also believes that Barcelona manager Quique Setien and other La Liga coaches will have an important job at hand to get the players ready for some situations which they have not faced in their careers before.
"It will be hard for coaches to not only keep the guys motivated but also to keep them focused and mentally prepared for the rest of the season. The mental aspect of the game is going to be the key, more than the physical aspect of the game," he says.
"We have to see which teams are more prepared for it, and which coaches are best in that way. I expect Setien and other coaches trying to get the players ready for some situations which are going to be absolutely new."
There are also discussions going on whether it could be a good idea to restart Champions League from August with the remainder of the knock out games a one-match affair. If the Champions League tournament gets a green light, it could be a hard task for Barcelona and Real Madrid, who are already competing for La Liga title in a jam-packed schedule, to pose a challenge for the European trophy.
"Well, we will have to see and wait if Real or Barcelona have enough fuel left in the tank to pose a challenge in the Champions League," says Jofre. "Of course, the physical conditions at the end of La Liga will make a difference.
"In France, they ended the league in May. So PSG will enter the Champions League without competing in the past few months. So what do you prefer - being a little tired because you have played during the past two months. Or you feel rested but without having played anything. We will see what is the difference," he adds.
"I feel coming back from competitions would be better. It's still going to be really tough. Of course, the teams will have to fight in the La Liga, but they have to also think about maybe conserving some energy for the Champions League because it is the most important trophy," he signs off.