Real Seal La Liga Title as Barcelona Capitulate Magnificently
This is Zinedine Zidane's (left) second La Liga title as Real manager, twice the number he won as a player at the club. (Picture courtesy: Real Madrid/Twitter)
Real Madrid president Florentino Perez hailed his players and coach Zinedine Zidane for clinching the La Liga title on Thursday, going as far as to say that the victory would be remembered forever. For the most storied club in the history of football, this may sound like hyperbole but considering the circumstances this has happened in, Perez’s jubilation is understandable.
Just the basic facts that have led to this title are impressive in themselves. Barcelona were two points ahead of Real when the season was suspended in March. Since resumption Real have won all ten fixtures, even as Barca have struggled, stumbled and somehow managed to look worse every passing week.
“We really wanted to win this league title and that is what we have done,” Perez told the Spanish television network Movistar. It is a feeling the coach he rehired shares. Zinedine Zidane has never hid the fact that the league rather than the Champions League remained Real’s main objective -- a statement that in many ways goes against everything they believe in. This is their third La Liga title in 12 years. That should tell you enough about how much Real missed this and how desperate Zidane and Perez were to break Barca’s domestic hegemony.
It didn’t matter that the title was finally clinched yesterday at the club’s Valdebebas training ground in front of fewer than 300 people rather than the Santiago Bernabéu, or that fans had been asked not to celebrate in the city. What mattered was that the title had been won.
“The Champions League is the Champions League but La Liga makes me happier, because La Liga is what it’s all about,” Zidane said to Movistar after the final whistle. This is Real’s second domestic title in four years with Zidane as manager no doubt helped by the fact that the league became a mini-league post the restart.
They have played 10. Won 10. And not trailed by a goal in any. And yesterday, even before they scored their opener, they were comfortable in the knowledge that they could lose and still win the title. Barcelona were trailing Osasuna by a goal.
But not like Real were going to lose.
This victory has been propelled by the old guard. One last stand for the team that has won it all. Karim Benzema scored two yesterday, taking his tally for the season to 21 from 17 different games. Sergio Ramos has been a pillar, a rock, a walking advertisement for every hair and beard product meant to signify masculinity. And on the pitch he has been outstanding. Luka Modric started the season looking like half the player he has been for close to a decade and then gradually became the Modric everyone recognizes in Real’s midfield.
How many of them will be there next season? Two of these three will. Sergio Ramos and Karim Benzema have had their contracts extended to June 2022. That time when Ramos wanted to play in China seems like a distant dream. Funny what success can do. Modric’s contract expires in 2021. Increasingly he has become the sidekick/mentor to Fran Valverde and there is no reason Real won’t push him out to fit the youngster in. This then will be Luka’s Last Stand. La Liga in the times of a pandemic.
Someone’s success is another’s loss. As Real celebrate, Barcelona must be fuming. Are fuming. They threw away a narrow lead after the restart. Understandable. What isn’t though is the way they have capitulated at the slightest application of pressure. The losses to Roma and Liverpool in the Champions League over the past two seasons aren’t scars. They are gaping wounds that erupt if you press ever so slightly.
Don’t listen to us. Pay heed to the best player in the world, talking about his own team.
“We are a weak team who can be beaten with enough intensity and enthusiasm. We have lost a lot of points which we shouldn’t have done [and] been very inconsistent,” Lionel Messi said in the aftermath of Barcelona’s loss to Osasuna that effectively handed Real the title.
“We need to be self-critical, starting with the players but also across the entire club. We are Barcelona, and we are obliged to win every game. Roma, Liverpool… the fans are running out of patience because we’re not giving them anything.”
The consolation is that Barcelona’s season isn’t over. Real wanted the league and they’ve got it. Barcelona want the Champions League, something they haven’t won for five years. They are still in with a chance to win that. Before the lockdown Barcelona had travelled to Napoli and came back with an away goal. A huge away goal. But nowhere near enough. Not if they have to play in an empty Camp Nou. Don’t believe us. Again. Listen to Messi.
“If we want to fight for the Champions League, a lot has to change. Like this, we will lose to Napoli.”
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