Thursday 19 October 2017

Cristiano Ronaldo scores the crucial goal as Real hold off Barcelona to finally recapture La Liga title

Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo
Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo

Ed Malyon

Cristiano Ronaldo scored and Real Madrid won, but this was a familiar refrain with a strangely unfamiliar result.

Because for only the second time in nine seasons, Real Madrid are Spanish champions.

Barcelona, who have dominated La Liga since the turn of the millennium, needed Malaga to pull off the unexpected on the Costa del Sol but, fittingly, the Rosaleda outfit were already on the beach.

While Malaga has proven a difficult place for top teams to go in the past, this end-of-season clash lacked the usual intensity of those games. A sloppy pass in the opening exchanges handed Madrid possession in the Malaga half and, before you could blink, Cristiano Ronaldo had rounded Carlos Kameni and tucked home the opening goal. They would never look back.

Barca conceded to Eibar minutes later and the deal was done. Malaga needed to push on and score two goals against a highly-motivated and far superior outfit. It never seemed likely, even without the pre-match comments from their coach, lifelong Madrid fan Michel, that suggested he wouldn't necessarily be whipping his side into a frenzy to stop the Liga title returning to the Bernabéu.

Ronaldo's goal added to his sensational late-season burst. 14 goals in eight games as the campaign wound down. Ultimately, considering when the defeat to Barcelona came, those goals were the difference in the title race and it should not go unnoticed that the first season Ronaldo realised he needed to be rested, and accepted his coach doing so, would be the one where he'd have such an impact down the stretch - despite being 31.

Yoel Rodríguez, in goal for Eibar, was the man intent on ruining Luis Enrique's Nou Camp farewell and as save followed save the evening was panning out as a double frustration for those in Catalunya.

Takashi Inui had given Eibar their shock lead and as Yoel flung himself about at the other end, saving his side at every turn, Inui struck again with less than half an hour remaining to intensify Luis Enrique's frown.

An own goal to bring it to 1-2 was not even consolation. It was torture. Their late rally and comeback was irrelevant as the fightback they needed on the Andalucian coast failed to materialise.

Barcelona ultimately struggled with the heavy load of fixtures that being a superclub entails these days. The back-ups weren't good enough as poor recruitment ultimately left them short.

Indeed, it was Real Madrid's attacking power and depth propelled them to this title win, eliminating all nerves with an early goal in this finale and also breaking a club record by scoring in each of their 38 league games over the season - a first in their 115-year history.

Karim Benzema scored their second at La Rosaleda and the title race was run. Zinedine Zidane, in his first senior job, has now won virtually everything he could have done within just 18 months. That elusive Copa del Rey shouldn't be too far off.

But such things won't be on his mind right now.

The Copa del Rey is in Barcelona's focus and victory over Alavés next week would be a low-key but happy way to wave off Luis Enrique. Zidane is instead scheming for the Champions League final, where a victory would make him the first-ever coach to defend their title.

For a man who has made a habit of creating history, and a squad who are not only scarily talented but incredibly deep, you would not bet against it.

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