Fiesta time at Cibeles as Real Madrid lift their 32nd La Liga title
It’s been four years since Madrid’s Plaza de Cibeles celebrated a league title triumph. Four long years when you’re a club the stature of Real Madrid, four even longer years when you’re watching your bitter rivals, and officially the world’s best club, lift that trophy instead over in Catalonia. Real Madrid partied at Cibeles last season when they won the Copa del Rey, but a 32nd La Liga crown, and a tenth Champions League, were the trophies Madridistas really craved.
One out of two ain’t bad.
Hundreds of Madrid fans, draped in white scarves and flags, gathered at Cibeles after Jose Mourinho and his men all-but sealed the title with a 2-1 victory at Barcelona last month. A more-comfortable-than-expected 3-0 win at San Mames against Athletic Bilbao on Wednesday night made that title official, and thousands upon thousands of fans will celebrate when Madrid’s open-top bus arrives at the famous city monument on Thursday night.
It’s exactly what Los Merengues have deserved this season. Some have pointed to Barcelona’s failure to reach the heights of last season as a way of ‘letting Madrid in’. Fatigue from their mid-season trip to Japan to compete in the Fifa World Club Cup, a dip in desire to win trophies already neatly stashed away in their trophy cabinets. Uncertainty over the future of Pep Guardiola. What goes up, must come down. But even Pep’s double-winning team of last season, who many claim to be the greatest club side ever, would have had their work cut-out against Mourinho’s machine-like men this season.
Madrid are on-course to smash all kinds of league records with two games to go. They’ve already secured the highest number of away wins in a season with 15 and counting, most league goals scored in a season with 115 and counting and levelled the most away league goals scored with 49, another record they should beat with one away game to come at Granada. Records aside, those stats also go some way to dispelling Mourinho’s defence-leaning approach to the game. Oh, and if they win their last two matches of the season they’ll have secured the highest-ever points total in La Liga with 100, pipping Pep’s 2009-10 Barca team by a point.
Los Blancos also managed to shrug off the chance for Barca supporters, and many neutrals, to claim the title would be tainted due to Madrid’s constant failure against the Catalan club in head-to-heads. Their chance to say that Madrid may have won the league, but they still can’t beat Barca. A 2-1 win at the Camp Nou, pretty much a title decider, put paid to that. Mourinho led his men to numerous other victories worth a mention – at Valencia, Atletico Madrid, Espanyol, Seville and Osasuna, as well as the typically fiery encounters in Bilbao and the Camp Nou.
Mourinho’s worked his magic on the sidelines, claiming a fourth title in as many countries. Portugal with Porto, England with Chelsea, Italy with Inter and now Spain with Madrid – the four languages he speaks. His plan has worked like clockwork, too. Although admitting it was his aim to win La Liga in his first season with the club, Mourinho noted at his first-ever Madrid press conference that the second year was always the key one, the one most likely to bring league success.
“I like that pressure,” he said of the need to win trophies. “I don’t like the pressure that I need three or four years to reach something. The second year is key. It is where we find the balance and growth of the team.”
That balance and growth has certainly been found.
The ‘Special One’ hasn’t had it easy. Often playing second fiddle to Barca, falling to a 5-0 defeat at the Camp Nou in his first Clasico game, bowing out of his much-loved Champions League to the Catalans last season. It looked like the wheels could have fallen off Madrid’s title hopes back in December when Barca again came out on-top at the Bernabeu, despite Los Merengues being slight favourites going into the game and leading early on. But they bounced back – 6-2 at Sevilla to be precise. He had to endure constant questions over his future, albeit a topic he didn’t exactly help himself with. Will he be pushed if he fails to win one of the ‘big two’ trophies this season? Is the Madrid hierarchy happy at how Jose represents Los Blancos? It’s been arguably Mourinho’s biggest test in football, and it’s one he’s passed with flying colours.
He’s been helped by 44 goals from Cristiano Ronaldo, 16 assists by Mesut Ozil, 13 from Angel di Maria – even though he missed a big chunk of the season. Xabi Alonso, surprisingly winning his first-ever league title at the age of 30, pulling the strings in midfield, Gonzalo Higuain (22) and Karim Benzema (20) rotating perfectly in attack, and Sergio Ramos leaving his full-back role to partner Pepe in the heart of the Blancos defence.
The only thing missing for Mourinho and Madrid is that tenth Champions League crown. And they came ever-so close, losing in the semi-finals only on penalties against Bayern Munich. There’s still room for improvement, as there always is. That improvement will need to come in Europe, if only slightly, next season. There will also be discussions over whether this season marks the start of a new ‘cycle’ in Spanish football, especially now Guardiola has announced his decision to leave Barca at the end of the season. One thing’s for sure – next season will be an even tougher one as Madrid look to defend their title, and in-turn cement their position as a better side than Barca.
For now? It’s job done. There’s only one party to be at tonight and that’s in the Spanish capital – fiesta time!Tagged in: Barcelona, Cibeles, José Mourinho, la liga, real madrid
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