MADRID: Success-starved Real Madrid fans will finally be able to stage the traditional title celebrations at the Cibeles fountain in the centre of the Spanish capital on Wednesday if Jose Mourinho’s side win at Athletic Bilbao.
After four years living in the shadow of bitter rivals Barcelona, when only a King’s Cup was added to the trophy cabinet, many of them will also be celebrating the imminent departure of Barca coach Pep Guardiola, who announced on Friday he was stepping down at the end of the season.
Guardiola has been a hugely irritating thorn in Real’s side since taking over in 2008, leading Barca to 13 trophies including two Champions Leagues and three successive La Liga titles.
However, the arrival of the combative Mourinho from Inter Milan in 2010 is finally starting to bear fruit.
His free-scoring Real side, eliminated on penalties by Bayern Munich in the Champions League semi-finals last week, have 91 points with three games left.
Barca, who host Malaga earlier on Wednesday, are seven adrift and resigned to the fact that their three-year stranglehold on the La Liga title is drawing to an end.
‘We know that Madrid are the champions,’ Guardiola, who will be replaced by close friend and long-term assistant Tito Vilanova next season, said after watching his side hammer Rayo Vallecano 7-0 on Sunday.
‘This game was a demonstration of what this team has achieved,’ added the 41-year-old, who is taking time away from the game to recharge his batteries.
‘The club is healthy, there is a young squad, Tito knows the players perfectly and I am convinced Barca will continue competing at the highest level in every competition.’
The normally outspoken Mourinho has shunned the media in recent weeks, sending out assistant Aitor Karanka before and after La Liga matches.
Karanka said after Real’s 3-0 home win over Sevilla on Sunday winning the title at the San Mames against Europa League finalists Bilbao would be a special experience.
‘But nobody is thinking about anything other than winning the three points that we need wherever and whenever that might be,’ he added.
‘It’s clear that winning a championship like the Spanish league, with all the effort it costs and everything that goes with it, is important. The sooner the better.’
The fight for the third automatic Champions League berth and fourth, which carries a qualification spot for Europe’s elite club competition, has intensified in recent weeks, with Valencia struggling to hold off ambitious, Qatar-owned Malaga.
The Andalusian club earned a 1-0 home win over Valencia on Sunday to draw level on 55 points but remain fourth due to a poorer head-to-head record.
After Malaga’s game at the Nou Camp, Valencia host eighth-placed Osasuna (2000), who are still in with a chance of a berth in the Europa League next season along with Levante, Bilbao and their opponents in next month’s final Atletico Madrid. (Reuters)