Grit for Glory: Five matches that defined Real Madrid’s La Liga season
As the final whistle went off at the Alfredo Di Stefano Stadium in the Spanish capital, the jubilant Real Madrid bench rushed on to the field as Los Blancos were crowned champions of Spain for the 34th time in their history.
Coach Zinedine Zidane, who returned last season amidst dire circumstances, became only the third Real Madrid manager to win multiple La Liga and UEFA Champions League titles, furthering his already iconic legacy with the club.
As opposed to the usual swashbuckling, arrogant and free-scoring style that the Bernabeu faithful demand from their team, Real were methodical, pragmatic and efficient in their approach this season and it paid off on the field as they captured their seventh La Liga title in the past 20 years.
Real, who boast of the best defensive record in Europe’s top five leagues, ground out results when they had to, and below, we look at five instances from their La Liga campaign that truly defines their gritty character this season:
Getafe 0-3 Real Madrid
Having failed to win their previous two matches, Real Madrid were in dire need of a victory against an in-form Getafe, who were pushing for a top-four finish, and with no Eden Hazard and Sergio Ramos in the squad, Los Blancos knew they had their work cut out against the Madrid-based side.
In the absence of the skipper, centreback Raphael Varane stepped up to the challenge and not only helped his side keep his clean sheet, but also scored Real’s second from a Toni Kroos corner after David Soria’s own goal had given the 13-time European champions the lead. Luka Modric added a third deep into stoppage time to help Madrid win 3-0 and keep pace with table-toppers Barcelona.
Real Madrid 1-0 Atletico Madrid
Real Madrid welcomed rivals Atletico Madrid at the Bernabeu with the chance of going six points clear at the top of the La Liga standings. Los Blancos, though, had not beaten Diego Simeone and his men at home in the league since 2013 and knew that it was going to be a monumental task to break down that rigid Atletico Madrid defence.
After 56 hard-fought minutes, Real finally got the breakthrough, as Karim Benzema tapped in a low cross from Ferland Mendy after some good work from Vinicius Junior on the left-wing. Real Madrid continued to have the bulk of the possession and resisted any Atleti attack to register their first win over their city rivals in seven years.
Real Madrid 2-0 Barcelona
Trailing Barcelona by two points in the La Liga standings, Real knew they had to end their seven-match winless run against their eternal rivals to leapfrog them in the La Liga standings.
After a goalless first half, Real dominated much of the second half and their perseverance finally paid off, as Toni Kroos’ incredible pass freed Vinicius Junior, who drove the ball in the box before smashing it past Ter Stegen via a deflection off Gerard Pique to give the home side the lead. Zidane sent on Mariano Diaz in the closing stages for a rare appearance and the striker made an instant impact, scoring a sumptuous goal and securing the win for Real.
Athletic Bilbao 0-1 Real Madrid
Real Madrid travelled to the notoriously difficult San Mames to take Athletic Bilbao, aiming to keep their four-point lead over Barcelona intact. This game was one of two relatively tougher fixtures that Real were yet to play, and victory over Bilbao would have helped Los Blancos inch one step closer to the La Liga title.
Neither team displayed much attack impetus in the match and the game was seemingly headed for a stalemate. However, a foul in the box on Marcelo earned Real a penalty which captain Sergio Ramos dispatched to help his side take the lead with 17 minutes left in the contest. Bilbao launched an aerial bombardment on the Los Blancos defence, but Real’s back-four were focused and kept a clean sheet to help their side go seven clear at the top of the La Liga standings, having played a game more.
Real Madrid 2-1 Villarreal
In their final home game of the season, Real hosted the Yellow Submarine at the Alfredo Di Stefano stadium, knowing that a victory would see them claim their 34th La Liga title.
Top scorer Karim Benzema gave Real the lead in the 29th minute and took his first penalty of the season in the 77th to extend Real’s advantage and take them closer to the title. Substitute Vincente Iborra pulled one back for Villarreal in the 83rd minute, giving his team and Barcelona a glimmer of hope. However, Real’s defence and midfield remained disciplined for the remainder of the contest and saw off all attempts from Villarreal to help their side claim their third La Liga title in the past 10 years.
Feature image courtesy: AFP / Gabriel Bouys