La Liga season preview how to watch
Can the return of Philippe Coutinho bring Barcelona back to previous heights? Andreu Dalmau/EPA.

Zinedine Zidane was barely out of Real Madrid’s lineup the last time they successfully defended La Liga’s crown, but back-to-back titles look a real possibility for the Frenchman’s side entering the 2020-21 campaign.

Los Blancos rallied following the coronavirus suspension to finish strong and collect a record 34th Liga title in 2019-20, leaving Barça devastated runners-up after leading for much of the campaign.

Atletico Madrid came third for the fifth time in eight seasons, just ahead of Sevilla, who took fourth after finishing level on points with Diego Simeone’s side, their joint-best result of the last decade.

More top-four fireworks are expected as Ronald Koeman takes charge of Barcelona having replaced Quique Setien following his sacking this summer. Lionel Messi’s summer fling with a possible exit ruffled feathers at the Camp Nou, leaving Barca as distinct title underdogs as they attempt to wrestle Spain’s power balance back in their favor.

Cadiz, Huesca and Elche are the three new faces stepping up from the Segunda Division, replacing Espanyol, Mallorca and Leganes in the first tier. Granada managed to earn a seventh place finish and UEFA Europa League qualification in their first term back among the elite last season; will we see any of the new crew soar to similar heights in 2021?

The Title Contenders

Real Madrid, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Sevilla

As certain as a Sergio Ramos spot-kick, Real Madrid and Barcelona will assuredly be La Liga’s two main claimants to the throne this season having accounted for all but one of the past 16 winners’ trophies. Barcelona have dominated the domestic landscape for much of that period with 10 titles to Real’s five—Atletico won the only outlier—but there’s a sense the winds of change could be blowing towards the capital.

Zidane has a wealth of young, up-and-coming talent to harness at the Santiago Bernabeu, while Barcelona are hoping to heal after one of their most loyal veterans, Messi, seemingly came close to leaving this summer (and maybe he should have). The Argentinian sat down with Goal’s Ruben Uria to explain his side of this summer’s biggest transfer fiasco, suggesting a parting of the ways could still occur next year:

Atletico recovered from a sluggish start last season to continue their streak of finishing third or higher in the last eight consecutive seasons, now six years removed from their fairytale title win of 2013-14. Simeone & Co. will again hope to break up Europe’s most dominant duopoly, while UEFA Europa League champions Sevilla can afford to dream of a challenge under former Spain and Real coach Julen Lopetegui.

All four of those teams were involved in European competition in August and thus won’t feature in the first week of La Liga, with Barça, Sevilla and Atletico beginning on Matchday 3.

The Newcomers

Huesca, Cadiz, Elche

Huesca required only one season in the Segunda Division before propelling themselves back into La Liga, weathering a delayed campaign to finish as second-tier champions in July. They open their schedule with one of the league’s most difficult trips, away to Villarreal.

Cadiz—a 14-year absentee from the first division—also sealed automatic promotion in Alvaro Cervera’s fourth full season at their helm, and they host Osasuna in Week 1, per Euan McTear:

Elche are the only newcomers who won’t be in action on the opening weekend after they were drawn against Barcelona out of the gate, with that fixture postponed until February or March.

Players to Watch

Repairing (nearly) broken bonds is the order of the day for a select few stars who could dazzle in La Liga this term, with Martin Odegaard and Philippe Coutinho hoping to impress back at their parent clubs.

Real Madrid reneged on their unofficial agreement to loan Odegaard to Real Sociedad for a second straight season and brought the Norwegian back to the Bernabeu after he shone in the Basque country:

Sociedad won’t be too glum about that departure after landing David Silva as Odegaard’s replacement, luring the Spanish veteran after his time at Manchester City drew to a close.

Silva’s debut for the club will be delayed after he tested positive for the coronavirus at the end of August, ruling him out of Sociedad’s opener away to Valladolid on Sunday.

Coutinho looks set to be handed a second chance at Barcelona by new coach Koeman, who will have witnessed the winger’s improved form during a treble-winning campaign with Bayern Munich:

The Blaugrana also have a couple of shiny new assets in Miralem Pjanic and Trincao. The former has joined for $70 million from Juventus, established as one of Europe’s best passing midfielder following his nine-year spell in Italy, while Trincao—a 20-year-old signing from Braga—has more excitement to his play.

La Liga Must-Watch Fixtures

October 25: Barcelona vs. Real Madrid

December 13: Real Madrid vs. Atletico Madrid

December 30: Athletic Bilbao vs. Real Sociedad

January 3: Real Betis vs. Sevilla

March 7: Atletico Madrid vs. Real Madrid

March 14: Sevilla vs. Real Betis

April 11: Real Madrid vs. Barcelona

La Liga Week 1 Schedule

Friday, September 11

Granada vs. Athletic Bilbao, 3 p.m. ET, beIN Sports, live stream on fuboTV

Saturday, September 12

Eibar vs. Celta Vigo, 10 a.m. ET, beIN Sports, live stream on fuboTV

Cadiz vs. Osasuna, 3 p.m. ET, beIN Sports, live stream on fuboTV

Sunday, September 13

Real Valladolid vs. Real Sociedad, 10 a.m. ET, beIN Sports, live stream on fuboTV

Villarreal vs. Huesca, 12:30 p.m. ET, beIN Sports, live stream on fuboTV

Valencia vs. Levante, 3 p.m. ET, beIN Sports, live stream on fuboTV

Monday, September 14

Alaves vs. Real Betis, 3 p.m. ET, beIN Sports, live stream on fuboTV

Visit La Liga’s official website to see the 2020-21 calendar in full.