One La Liga fixture away from the European club football break leading into the Qatar 2022 World Cup and the table has Barcelona on top by two points over Real Madrid, followed by Real Sociedad six points below Madrid, and Athletic Club, Real Betis, and Atletico Madrid two points below Sociedad.
Barcelona’s Robert Lewandowski with 13 goals in 14 games lead the scorers’ table followed by Real Betis’ Borja Iglesias and Mallorca’s Vedat Muriqi at eight goals apiece. Barca’s Ousmane Dembele leads the assists category with five followed by Real Madrid’s Rodrygo and Lewandowski at four each.
The stories of the domestic competition at this early stage are Sociedad’s and Athletic’s great starts and the nearly two-month run of form of Rayo Vallecano who has defeated Real Madrid (3-2), Sevilla (1-0), and Valencia (2-1) while drawing (0-0) with Barcelona, and (1-1) with Atletico Madrid. On the individual performer side of things, Kosovan Muriqi is having a great year in front of goal and Lewandowski has acclimatized to La Liga in record time—somewhat like Erling Haaland has taken to the Premiership.
It is interesting to note the tides and undercurrents being affected by the Qatari moon, such as the fact that a number of teams with World Cup-bound stars seem to be hanging in but not putting it all on the line, particularly as the break nears. Or that the Super League specter is still floating around the European club soccer scene adding unease to many a club administrator’s perspectives if not yet impacting their decision-making. Ironically, the majority of club and FIFA honchos have landed on the same side, against the Barca-Real-Juventus triumvirate. The ultimate fall-out may not be a smooth resolution but after Qatar, a lot of things will float to the top of many priority lists and the issue should be resolved.
Also, it would not be surprising to see a lot of star players making moves come the winter and summer transfer markets given the rising and falling of their stock via the World Cup and in some cases the career-ending/defining nature of their participation. In some cases, it may even lead to retirement from the sport altogether. We may be about to witness a large-scale fade out of a generation of era-defining stars.
Among the many movers might be Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Neymar, Firmino, Christian Pulisic, Vitinha, and any number top performers in Qatar who currently feature for second-tier cup competitors and/or second-tier clubs. Similarly, those who expected to attend and were prevented by injury might reconsider options upon recovery as they see their stock decline or become stagnant in relation to cup participants, particularly if they are teammates.
Finally, World Cups tend to tinge the following domestic season with emotional remnants of the tourney resulting in new player feuds or partnerships. The fact that this time around we are returning to the middle of the season will make things different and very interesting—will the effects impact the teams on top or lower down in their leagues or the ones currently doing well or poorly in continental play? Will the transfers alter the balances of power mid-way through the seasons and competitions? We have a lot in store come the other end of the Qatar tunnel.
Photo: La Liga logo, Shutterstock ID: 448745971, by charnsitr
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