BARCELONA (Reuters) – Clubs in Spanish soccer’s top two divisions can begin training in small groups from Monday as they move into the third phase of a protocol for resuming activity after disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, a source close to the matter has said.

The source said organising body La Liga had informed clubs they could start training in groups of up to 10 players from May 18 following an order issued by the government’s department for health on Saturday which modified guidelines for elite athletes.

Players from all top-flight and second division clubs had returned to their training grounds earlier this month for the first time since all organised soccer in Spain was provisionally suspended in early March due to the pandemic but were only able to conduct individual sessions.

They will move into the penultimate phase of the return to activity on Monday, while full training, phase four, will be allowed once regions enter the second phase of the national state of emergency.

La Liga president Javier Tebas said last week he hoped the season could resume from June 12, but for that to happen all regions where matches are taking place must enter phase two.

The provinces of Madrid and Barcelona are currently in phase zero of the state of emergency, meaning La Liga leaders Barcelona and nearest challengers Real Madrid will be unable to begin matches until restrictions are eased.

(Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Toby Davis)

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