Cristiano Ronaldo starts the party as Real Madrid secure title
In his first season in charge Zinedine Zidane has led his team to a first title in five years
Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates opning the scoring in their LaLiga win over Malaga. Photo: Jon Nazca/Reuters
Real Madrid’s fans gathered at the fountain of Cibeles, celebrating before their team had even finished playing at Rosaleda. Those who were in Málaga celebrated too, singing their way through the final minutes. There was to be no drama on the final day and no late twist, just a first league title in five years. An early goal from Cristiano Ronaldo set Madrid on their way as they eased towards a 2-0 victory that might yet be the first step towards a domestic and European double that has resisted them for 59 years.
Madrid had gone into the final day knowing that a single point would be sufficient; the surprise was that for much of the night it appeared even a defeat would have been enough, with news coming through that Barcelona were trailing at the Camp Nou. The Catalans eventually came back from 2-0 down to win 4-2, but theirs was an empty victory. Madrid’s was a comfortable one, no space for a surprise. It was over almost as soon as it had begun – if there had ever really been a chance.
A loose ball fell to Isco. He received, looked up and slotted it through the gap for Ronaldo, setting off from the centre-forward position, his territory now. Running clean through, his finish had more than a touch of that other Ronaldo – the great Brazilian – about it: a touch to control, another to take him beyond Carlos Kameni before he rolled it into the net. Once he had set off, there was never any doubt. The clock said 1min 37sec – or it would have been if the league had not taken the absurd decision to prohibit stadium scoreboards from telling the time.
It was early, anyway, everyone knew. Soon they also knew that Barcelona were trailing 1-0 at the Camp Nou. Amid all the talk about Málaga getting a surprise result, no one seemed to have contemplated the possibility that it would be Eibar that did so. If Takashi Inui’s goal 600 miles or so northeast of here made little practical difference – Madrid’s fate was always in their own hands – it did make their position more comfortable still. If it stayed like that in Barcelona, never mind a solitary point, they could lose and still take the title. Instead, they led.
That it was Ronaldo and Isco who combined for the goal was appropriate; they are the men who have led Madrid towards the finish in recent weeks, when the late goals that defined much of the first half of the season have often given way to early ones, drama reduced to a minimum. Isco has given them a control and subtlety previously lacking. Ronaldo, rested and rotated, has been decisive. This was his 14th goal in eight matches. This is the eighth season in which he has reached 25 league goals. Until the spring, reaching that target did not appear so probable. And it is when he has scored that really matters, not how many.
Much had been said about Málaga’s application – all the more so because their manager, Míchel González, is a former Madrid legend. But they did seek to make a match of this. For much of the half they rolled forward and beyond the visitors. Sandro Ramírez, the former Barcelona player, was a man on a mission. He drew two saves from Keylor Navas. While the first was easy enough, the second was sensational, the Costa Rican crashing into the post as he reached a wonderful free- kick. Another Sandro shot flashed wide off the head of Sergio Gontán‚ known as Keko, and Keko headed another opportunity over. At the other end, Kameni saved from Toni Kroos, but Málaga were on top. Madrid, though, were top, and never seemed set to relinquish that position.
At half-time, Barcelona were at least four goals away from winning the title – and they had to be the right four. But the next to arrive was Madrid’s. Sergio Ramos reached a Luka Modric corner, his shot coming back off Kameni, via Raphael Varane’s chest, to Benzema who scored from close range. If that was the “wrong” goal, a roar from the Madrid fans at the Rosaleda welcomed another. Incredibly, Eibar’s Inui had scored again. Even when Barcelona did score, it was not their doing but an own goal.
When Leo Messi’s penalty was saved by Yoel at the Camp Nou, it summed up their day and maybe even their season. Even if Barcelona did eventually get the second, then a third, and then a fourth, Madrid were there now and they knew it. They had been from the start.
Meanwhile, Diego Simeone has expressed his desire to continue as head coach at Atletico Madrid in a move that should disappoint a number of his high-profile suitors.
The Argentinian has guided Atletico to the LaLiga title and into two Champions League finals during his six seasons in charge, and with every passing year his reputation on the continent has grown.
Serie A underachievers Inter Milan are reportedly keen to hire Simeone as Stefano Pioli’s long-term successor while the former Lazio player has also been linked with Premier League club Arsenal.
Simeone, 47, said on Saturday he would hold talks with the Atletico board about his future in Madrid and, following the 3-1 victory over Athletic Bilbao that saw his side finish third, he had made a decision.
Quoted in Marca, he said: “Journalists continually ask me if I am going to stay. Yes, I am going to stay. Do you know why I’m going to stay? Because this club has a future and that future is all of us.”
Sunday’s match was the last at the Vicente Calderon as Atletico prepare to move into their new Wanda Metropolitano stadium for the start of the 2017-18 season.
“I am grateful to all those who have passed through this place,” Simeone added from the middle of the Calderon pitch. “The players, the coaches and the directors. All those who have built this club.
“For us the feelings run really deep. Other clubs might have more money, more trophies, but they will never be able to match the feelings that we all have for Atletico.”