LaLiga: In extended season, Real Madrid's title triumph a result of keeping eye on the prize in compact league
Real Madrid beat Villarreal to win LaLiga title for the first time since 2016/17 with 10 straight wins since the re-start.
Real Madrid are champions of Spain. It is their first league title since 2016-17, just the third in eight years and only the sixth of this century. As much as Real's 34th title win is about their brilliance, it is significantly also about how Barcelona let it slip.
As the season stretched to July, the longest ever, Real have triumphed in the 'mini tournament'. Before the restart, Zinedine Zidane was asked if this World Cup style would suit his players. The Frenchman responded, "I like the comparison. My players know what it is to play in finals, to play in the later stages of tournaments." In 32 days, a game every three days, Zidane's men picked 10 straight wins. 3-1, 3-0, 1-2, 2-0, 0-1, 1-0, 0-1, 2-0, 1-2 and 2-1. 10 played, 10 won, 30 points. Real didn't trail even once since the restart. A statistic that applies to the entire season: Madrid have taken the lead 24 times, winning 23 and drawing one.
It's not been pretty, by a long shot, but it's helped get the job done. There's been accusations of getting help of the referees and VAR, of dodgy decisions going their way, but Real have lapped it all up. Barring Valencia, none of the other wins since the restart have looked convincing. But does it matter in the end? It is Ramos who will get to hold the trophy aloft minus the traditional celebrations at Cibeles.
— Real Madrid C.F.⚽ (@realmadrid) July 16, 2020
In an extended league, the squad depth has helped. 21 different scorers have found the back of the net including, most recently, Ferland Mendy who thumped in a belter at the near post against Granada. At the other end of list, Karim Benzema scored both goals against Villarreal to take his tally this season to 21. In the first silverware since Cristiano Ronaldo's move to Juventus, all but Eder Militao, Brahim Diaz and Alvaro Odriozola found the net.
But it is Ramos - who won the penalty on Thursday night and tried to be cheeky by passing it on - who has been terrific. And we're not even talking about his leadership in defence or as captain. We are talking about his goal scoring. He will finish as the second-highest scorer for the club in the league with 10, so far, with five of them coming since the restart. His decisive penalties against Getafe and Athletic Bilbao were crucial while free kick against Mallorca absolutely sublime.
— Real Madrid C.F.⚽ (@realmadrid) July 16, 2020
At the back, Thibaut Courtois kept five straight clean sheets before conceding against Granada - a first for the club since Iker Casillas was in goal in 2007/08. Incidentally, it is the first time since then that a Real Madrid player will win the Zamora Trophy. The Belgian took a knee to the head versus Villarreal and soldiered on. Later, he made a double save to keep Villarreal at bay - just like he did at Nuevo Los Carmenes. A far cry from the start of the season where he came under criticism for letting in six goals from four games. Now his record reads: 20 conceded from 34 games at 0.58 goals per match including 18 clean sheets.
While things went to plan in Madrid, it went as miserably as it could 600 kms away at Pamplona. Lionel Messi scored in the loss against 10-man Osasuna but even as the free kick hit the net, he was visibly upset. At full time, he didn't hold back. "All season we have been a very weak team, beaten for intensity, for motivation, people can score against us very easily, we lost many points where we shouldn't lose them. This game has just summed up how our season has been."
"Madrid did their own job well, did not lose any games after the break, they deserve praise. But we did plenty for them to take this league, dropping many points we shouldn't have. We have to be self-critical, starting with the players, but in all areas."
Having started the "mini league" two points ahead, Barcelona are now seven points behind with a game to play. A 0-0 draw at Sevilla, late goal conceded in 2-2 at Celta Vigo and another 2-2 vs Atletico Madrid meant Barcelona left the opportunity slip by.
“You can look for excuses and point to what happened in other games (involving Real) but we have to be aware that we let it escape due to our own errors. We lost a huge opportunity as if we’d have beaten Celta things would have gone better against Atletico. The real blow was in Vigo, that last-minute goal by (Iago) Aspas. That hurt a lot,” Luis Suarez told SPORT.
you watch the game you don't see Busquets, you watch Busquets and you see the whole game 😍pic.twitter.com/mDdHAkUyXn
— - (@RashJuniorr) July 16, 2020
Barca's problems exist both on and off the pitch. Managerial changes, board room chaos, leadership concerns and an ageing squad all have contributed to their dismal campaign. While completing numerous passes, Barca lacked vision going forward, looked predictable but most noticeably were woeful at the back. The ever-reliable Sergio Busquets' blunder which allowed Osasuna to get the winner late on gave a true reflection.
Messi might get the top-scorer award - the Pichichi - at the end of the season but the tally has dropped. Unless the Argentine can get three or more goals on Sunday, this would be his lowest scoring season since 2008/09.
The postmortem can wait until next week but for now, it is chance for Zidane's Real Madrid to celebrate. “The Champions League is the Champions League but LaLiga makes me happier, because LaLiga is what it’s all about,” Zidane told Movistar after the final whistle. And he's delivered.
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