Wednesday, May 29, 2024
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Real win record-extending 36th title

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Barcelona, May 5: Real Madrid put its Spanish rivals out of their misery by clinching the league title on Saturday with four games remaining, just in time to turn its full focus to its Champions League semifinal with Bayern Munich.
Madrid did the expected and beat relegation-threatened Cadiz 3-0 even though it was mostly with bench players. Barcelona then lost 4-2 at Girona with a collapse that coach Xavi Hernández admitted was typical of his team’s trophyless season.
That combination of results secured Madrid its record-extending 36th Spanish league title with Girona, which leapfrogged Barcelona into second place, facing an insurmountable 13-point deficit with only a maximum 12 points left in play.
Only a victory by Barcelona at Girona would have stopped Madrid from celebrating the title on Saturday.
Madrid now has a chance to add to its unequalled 14 European Cups. Madrid hosts Bayern on Wednesday with their Champions League semifinal evenly balanced after a 2-2 first-leg draw in Germany. Either Paris Saint-Germain or Borussia Dortmund will await the winner in the June 1 final.
The club said that it will hold off on the traditional celebration of titles in downtown Madrid until next Saturday with its important game against Bayern coming first.
“We deserved this league title in every way,” Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said after guiding his team to the second league title and 12th trophy overall in his two stints with Madrid.
“We would like to celebrate with all the fans, but they understand because on Wednesday we have a very important challenge. We want to prepare well to make the fans happy and we will celebrate the title together on Saturday.”
At the start of the season, Madrid appeared set to again play chaser to defending champion Barcelona after Karim Benzema left in the summer and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and defenders David Alaba and Eder Militao sustained serious leg injuries.
But Jude Bellingham blossomed into a scorer on arrival from Borussia Dortmund. His goals, and leadership in midfield, combined with the dribbling, speed and goals of Vinícius Júnior. put Madrid well ahead of the rest.
Madrid has only lost once in 34 rounds so far, beat Barcelona in both league “clasico” matches, and dealt Girona a pair of lopsided losses in their two meetings.
BACKUPS SHINE
Ancelotti overhauled his lineup ahead of the decider against Bayern. Centre back Nacho Fernández was the only starter from the first leg against Bayern to begin against Cadiz.
Brahim Díaz broke through Cadiz’s defence in the 51st minute at the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday when the forward rifled a shot from the edge of the box into the top corner.
Season standout Bellingham tapped in a second goal in the 68th, moments after going on as a substitute to put the result beyond doubt with his 18th league goal of the campaign. Joselu Mato added a third in injury time.
GIRONA IN CHAMPIONS LEAGUE
Xavi’s team suffered the double blow of watching Madrid claim the title because of its loss while at the same time falling behind Girona in a second big loss in the Catalan derby this season. Girona pushed Barcelona into third place at 14 points behind Madrid.
Girona locked up a top-four finish and Champions League berth after opening a 13-point gap over Athletic Bilbao in fifth.
Girona is now on track to create an issue for UEFA which has rules designed to protect the Champions League from having two or more clubs in the same ownership group. Girona and Manchester City are both part of City Football Group backed by the Abu Dhabi royal family.
Girona can also deprive Barcelona of a lucrative spot in the Spanish Super Cup if it holds onto second place.
Substitute Cristian “Portu” Portugués flipped the game around for Girona. Trailing 2-1 when Portu went on in the 65th, he scored on his first touch. He then assisted Miguel Gutiérrez two minutes later before he curled in a second goal to complete a brace in the 74th.
Barcelona’s Lamine Yamal had set up Andreas Christensen in the third minute, only for Artem Dovbyk to head in his league-leading 20th goal seconds later for Girona. Yamal also earned a penalty that Robert Lewandowski converted just before halftime.
COURTOIS RETURNS
Courtois was back in goal for his first appearance of the season since suffering two leg injuries. The 31-year-old Belgian tore the ACL in his left knee in August, two days before Madrid’s first game of the season. He then ruptured the meniscus in his right knee in March when he was preparing to come back.
Courtois had little work except for moments before Díaz’s opener when he snuffed out a breakaway by Cadiz striker Chris Ramos.
Ancelotti said Friday that Andriy Lunin, the backup who has excelled in Courtois’ place, will be back in goal for the second leg against Bayern.
Also, Atletico Madrid won 1-0 at Mallorca thanks to an early goal by Rodrigo Riquelme to keep its grip on fourth place.
Real Sociedad beat Las Palmas 2-0 to strengthen its hold on sixth place and a Europa League spot. (AP)

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