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La Liga restart merges real with virtual as fans gear up for the usual title race

La Liga has made it their personal mission to make the viewing experience more enriching with virtual crowds, new camera angles, and pre-recorded noise when the league returns on Thursday.

Written by Debkalpa Banerjee |
Updated: June 11, 2020 4:12:14 pm
la liga, la liga 2020 preview, la liga title race, real madrid, barcelona, El Gran Derbi, la liga match today, la liga news, football news La Liga will resume its action with Sevilla hosting Real Betis on June 11. (Source: Twitter/@LaLiga)

What felt unfeasible and almost unethical two months back — resumption of professional leagues in Spain — will now be achieved on Thursday when Sevilla lock horns with Real Betis, owing to La Liga’s cautious approach and forward-thinking in the wake of the global pandemic.

Like Germany demonstrated in its successful restart of Bundesliga last month, football will return in a different avatar. For safety reasons, cardboard cutouts have replaced fans in the empty stands and artificial crowd noise has become the soundtrack for the armchair supporters in front of televisions.

But La Liga has made it their personal mission to make the viewing experience more enriching with virtual crowds, new camera angles, and pre-recorded noise when the league returns with the El Gran Derbi.

With the help of MediaPro and Norwegian firm VIZRT, the league will offer superimposed images of seated supporters wearing the team colours in its broadcasts, in a manner somewhat similar to what Denmark’s Aarhus GF did last month. On the other hand, the atmospheric audio of the FIFA video game series will be added in as part of a ‘Sound of the Stands’ project which will dynamically respond to every goal, foul, or near-miss.

“The implementation of such a technology expresses our strategy of being different. In the last five years, we have been investing a lot, both in terms of money and effort, to be the best league on the pitch and in the market. We want our fans to have alternatives, different ways to live the game as we are living in a different time,” Jose Antonio Cachaza, the head of LaLiga India, told indianexpress.com.

On the pitch, La Liga aims to cram 110 matches in just six weeks, scheduling two matchdays per week. Apart from the risk of injuries to players, the absence of thousands of supporters and the prospect of unfamiliar homes are also set to make the tug-of-war between Barcelona and Real Madrid more intriguing.

“The lack of fans might affect the players a little bit mentally but they are professionals who must have prepared in confinement. But it might make things a bit more level as there won’t be much of a home advantage anymore,” Frédéric Kanouté, former Sevilla striker and LaLiga Ambassador, told indianexpress.com.

“As for Barcelona and Real Madrid, we have to be honest that with the five substitution rule they will be able to rotate better. But, I always believe that football is played on the field: 11 vs 11,” added the former Tottenham Hotspur player.

Instead of the 81,000-capacity Santiago Bernabeu, Real Madrid will play at the home ground of their reserve team — the 6,000-seater Alfredo di Stefano Stadium — for the rest of the season as their main stadium is under renovation. Meanwhile, Barcelona, who lead their rivals by two points at the top, have no other option than to acclimatise themselves with the absence of Europe’s largest home crowd of Camp Nou in their quest to win their third straight title.

Nine points away from the giants, only two points separate four teams — Sevilla, Real Sociedad, Getafe, and Atletico — in the race for the remaining two UEFA Champions League spots. On the other hand, Mallorca, Leganes, and Espanyol are on the brink of relegation with 11 matches remaining.

Although La Liga chief Javier Tebas hasn’t yet ruled out the return of fans to stadiums this season itself, it’s highly unlikely that the title race between the age-old rivals will see the involvement of the fans. Till then, the virtual crowds and the fake atmosphere will have to do much like the other temporary fixes, which have rendered the sport both sanitized and soulless.

From June 11, all La Liga matches will be streamed on Facebook Watch.

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