La Liga makes its return on Thursday night and its title race couldn’t be too much closer as Barcelona and Real Madrid bid to outmanoeuvre each other once more.

We take a look at a some of the key things to keep an eye on as Spain’s top flight resumes.

Two-horse race in La Liga

It’s no surprise to see Barcelona and Madrid sit at the top of the table as the action returns on Thursday, given they’ve won this league a total of 59 times between them down the years. Just two points currently separates first-placed Barca and second-placed Madrid, meaning we should be set for a thrilling two-horse title race – Sevilla are another nine points back in third – across the final 11 games of the season.

But while these two great rivals are battling it out at La Liga’s summit once more, what makes this season a particularly intriguing one is that neither team have been at their typical dominant best – something that is backed up by Barca and Madrid having lost and drawn a combined eight and 12 games respectively this term, and by the former having had to make a managerial change mid-season.

We could arguably be looking at the worst Barca and Madrid sides in a while, which makes the remaining games even more exciting, with both sides likely to drop further points in the coming weeks. That said, it’s Barcelona who are favourites for the La Liga title at 8/13, with Madrid next in line at 5/4. But with Madrid having run out 2-0 winners in El Clasico just a couple of fixtures ago and Barca still yet to fully click under Quique Setien, the destination of the title is very much up in the air.

Messi to inspire Barca once more?

Barca and Madrid will be each be pleased they kick off with, on paper, relatively straight-forward looking clashes – Barca are the 27/100 favourites away at 18th-placed Real Mallorca on Saturday, while Madrid are the 2/9 favourites when they host 16th-placed Eibar on Sunday – as they look to hit the ground running this weekend.

Setien will be delighted that he should be able to call upon fit-again Lionel Messi, who had appeared to be a doubt for the Mallorca fixture at one stage. Despite turning 33 in just a couple of weeks, there is no signs of Messi’s star fading anytime soon. Once more, he’s been La Liga’s best player this season by a country mile.

With 19 league goals to his name and 12 assists, he tops both the La Liga goalscoring and assist charts this season, sitting five goals clear of Madrid striker Karim Benzema in the goals department and five ahead of a quintet of players, including team-mate Luis Suarez, when it comes to assists.

Averaging a goal in La Liga every 99 minutes, it’s no surprise to see the Argentine as odds-on favourite by some margin to win the Golden Boot, priced at 1/25. His nearest challenger, Benzema, is next in line at 15/2, with Suarez, who is also back from injury, at 100/1.

Barca fans will hope their main man keeps on scoring once the action resumes, and in doing so, helps secure a third straight title and fifth in six years for the Catalan club.

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