In a dramatic night of football, the penultimate gameweek in La Liga saw Real Madrid crowned champions.
“The sound of inevitability”
Real Madrid 2-0 Villarreal
Real Madrid knew that a 10th straight win would see them be crowned champions and so, of course, that is exactly what they went out and got. Los Blancos have been nerveless since the restart, never trailing in any game for even a single second. They’ve played cautiously, sure, they’ve been lucky, sure, but what they’ve been more than anything else is consistent. And that is why they are champions.
“We are two points behind and we have 11 finals left. We are going to give it our all to win this title,” said Zinedine Zidane back before things got underway again. And given how successful the French coach had been in finals (and knockout football in general) the way Madrid have played and won these games should be no surprise.
Madrid were tight and compact, they played simple football and took few risks. They pushed forward when opponents allowed but were happy to sit deep and play on the break if they had to. That was Zidane’s Champions League formula and it’s here in La Liga. Moreover, Zidane rotated his squad superbly, ensuring players could give their all without worrying about fatigue sapping them three days later.
In truth, Villarreal never stood a chance at the Estadio Alfredo di Stefano. There was just no way a side as mentally strong as Madrid was going to be denied at this late stage. Their goal was a rapid transition, beginning as Casemiro won the ball back and then Modric picked it up between the lines and instantly slid it to Karim Benzema who drifted into space, received the pass and thumped it home.
Madrid had other chances, of course, but they also weren’t beating the door down to get a second. That’s because they knew that one goal would be enough for them, so powerful has their defence been. They’ve kept six clean sheets since La Liga restarted and conceded only three goals. They were comfortable at 1-0, that would have been enough.
Of course that wasn’t the end, as Ramos won a penalty with some top-notch theatrics that deceived not only the referee but, somehow, VAR as well. The drama continued as he and Benzema attempted to pull-off the pass-penalty that Leo Messi and Luis Suárez did four years previously, only to botch it for enroachment. They were allowed to retake, and this time Benzema stepped up and slotted home to give Madrid breathing room and gave himself a great chance to claim the Pichichi.
The hysteria of that second goal clearly got to Sergio Ramos, however, as some sloppy defending a few minutes later allowed Iborra to pull a goal back for Villarreal. Just the fourth time Thibaut Courtois had conceded since the restart. They then had to withstand a late flurry of attacks, and Thibaut Courtois made a couple of big saves.
They saw it out in the end, but the scoreline meant that the lucky penalty became just as important as the brilliant opening goal. And that just about sums up post-lockdown Real Madrid. That is the sound of inevitability; they will play well, they be hard to break down, and when they need it they will get a massive slice of luck. That is an unbeatable combination (it delivered them three straight Champions Leagues) and it has seen Los Blancos charge to 10 straight wins and a 34th La Liga title. Hats off to Zinedine Zidane, a ceaseless winner.
Barcelona 1-2 Osasuna
If Real Madrid were inevitable in winning, then it also felt inevitable and obvious that Barcelona capitulated at home against Osasuna. The Blaugrana have looked uncomfortable all season but particularly so since returning from lockdown. The injury to Frenkie de Jong didn’t help, nor did the small squad brought on by years of mismanagement from the board or Leo Messi’s uncharacteristically poor shooting.
But in truth it was no one thing, just a whole lot of little things. And as a great man once said: you can’t ignore the little things, it’s the little things that make up life. And so Barcelona, instead of being relentless and driven to do their best and ensure that Madrid had to win against Villarreal, instead looked confused and tired even as Quique Setién picked a rotated side.
Passes just wouldn’t fall, the chipped diagonals that so often find a man instead found a defender, shots slammed off shins. Nothing would fall. Osasuna struck on the break to take the lead and even though Messi smashed in a stunning free-kick to equalise, the Blaugrana couldn’t kick-on and get the winner, not even when Osasuna were reduced to 10-men.
In fact, Osasuna took advantage of Barcelona pouring everyone forward by smashing them on the break and picking up an incredible game-winner. It was a shock, but at the same time it just so obvious, so inevitable. “We have to be very self-critical” said Messi post-match, refusing to blame anyone but himself. And he’s right, because Barcelona need to do intensive work if they want to re-energise themselves in time to compete in the Champions League next month and then again in all competitions next season.
Right now, they are not good enough. Messi said “like this, we will lose to Napoli” and again he is correct, which is a staggering statement to be able to make about Barcelona. But nevertheless, if nothing changes then Napoli will beat them and that, too, will be inevitable.
The rest of tonight’s La Liga action:
- Eibar 3-1 Valladolid: Eibar picked up a comfortable win at Ipurúa in a dead-rubber.
- Athletic Club 0-2 Leganés: Unai Simon sent off for a mad early red and Leganés took full advantage by picking up a stunning away win that gives them a slim chance to avoid relegation on the final day,
- Real Betis 1-2 Alavés: Betis’ downslide continues as Alavés eased to victory and confirmed their La Liga status.
- Celta Vigo 2-3 Levante: A five-goal thriller at Balaidos saw Levante devastate Celta on the break only to get pegged back by the hosts relentless energy. The loss puts Celta in danger of relegation on the final day.
- Getafe 0-2 Atlético Madrid: Sharpshooter Marcos Llorente and defensive fulcrum Thomas Partey did the business for Simeone.
- Mallorca 1-2 Granada: Phenomenal opening goal from Cucho Hernández set the stage for a great escape but Granada burned it all down with a victory that sent Mallorca straight back to the Segunda.
- Real Sociedad 0-0 Sevilla: Two well-coached sides played out a 0-0, the point gives La Real a chance to secure Europa League football which, given their awful form since the restart, would be most welcome.
- Valencia 1-0 Espanyol: Superb finish to give Valencia the lead which, incredibly, they held onto. Espanyol going down in flames.