Having been involved in an unprecedented mid-season break, La Liga clubs are now set to return to competitive action, with matches set to begin on the 29th of December.
With the World Cup being held in Qatar, arrangements were made to schedule the tournaments later in the year in a bid to avoid players facing off in the searing heat. As such, the top domestic leagues from across the world have been paused for approximately six weeks, in a situation that has never previously happened.
As such, La Liga clubs have waded into uncharted territory. With no prior experience of a situation like this, teams have taken different approaches to the break. Some have treated it like a mini pre-season, others like a post-season. The fact of the matter was that clubs were entering into the unknown, and had to choose what they felt would work best, based on their own prognosis.
For Osasuna, it was a case of restarting. The side from Pamplona have enjoyed a fine start to the league season, currently sitting in seventh place. Despite their positive start, there were some aspects of play that the coaching staff were unhappy with during the first half of the campaign.
The situation allowed Los Rojillos to press reset on certain aspects of their strategy, altering them as they saw fit without any interruptions. Although it was unusual, the unprecedented circumstances allowed for the club to make important changes that could have proved difficult to implement in a normal situation, as explained by their fitness coach Sergi Perez when he spoke to Football España on Wednesday.
“We have been lucky that we have had most of the squad available during the break. Above all, this situation has allowed us to work on the areas that we were strong at. However, it has also given an opportunity to correct mistakes that we have made during the first phase of the season.
“For a team like ours that plays with a lot of intensity and pressure, it has been valuable for us to promote these aspects so that we can improve for the next phase.”
Osasuna have developed into a mid-table team over the last few seasons, but they are pushing for the European places this campaign. It underlines that Jagoba Arrasate’s side are not resting on their laurels as they prepare to face third place side Real Sociedad in San Sebastian on the 31st December.
With some team having undertaken this mindset to reset, it will be important to see how those clubs that have struggled this season come out of the blocks in this second half. Perhaps the most notable case for this is Elche. Los Franjiverdes have had a horrible season to date, registering just four points after 14 matches.
During the break, Pablo Machin has taken charge of the club as they desperately seek to avoid the drop. Sitting eight points adrift of 17th-placed Celta Vigo, survival will require both biblical miracles and black magic. However, the mid-season break could certainly prove to be a benefit for a team like Elche, who have been in dire straits.
In usual circumstances, it would be difficult for a manager to get his ideas across without being interrupted by matches. With no games for six weeks, Machin has had the opportunity to incorporate a full reset of the set-up employed by predecessor Jorge Almiron. This could allow for his ideas to be implemented more easily and effectively to his players.
You could say that there is proof of this already. Granted, Segunda Federacion side Guadalajara won’t be the sternest test for Elche for the remainder of the season, but for a team that is low on confidence, it had the ability to be a banana skin. However, Machin’s men came through the game with relative ease, winning 3-0.
Elche’s first match back is a tricky test, travelling to the Spanish capital to take on Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid. However, the break will have given their squad a clear idea of their identity under Pablo Machin, which will instil belief that they can beat the drop.
The return of La Liga is sure to be captivating. It will feel like a restart, with form out of the window. A close eye will be trained on those teams that struggled in their first phase, as to whether they have used their break effectively to remove previous issues that had affected their performances beforehand. The opportunity has been there to make positive changes, will the teams take it?