Robbie Dunne reviews a La Liga season which confirms many things about both Real and Barcelona
They have a saying in basketball: "ball don't lie". Real Madrid beat Malaga on Sunday night in comfortable fashion to win their 33rd league title and first in five years.
Amid polemics and inquisitions about referee gift bags among other issues, Real Madrid let their football do the talking because at the end of the day that ball don't lie.
La Liga’s winning lay in one team suffering from a form of cognitive dissonance and the other accepting reality and preferring to speak about the facts.
Zinedine Zidane's evolution into a man who really knows how to manage a squad took time but he has won over many of the people who once waved him off as a former great that was out of his depth on Real Madrid’s sideline. He caressed the egos of some of the worlds biggest talent as they sat on the bench and played sporadically while also ensuring that they were ready to play and play well when called upon.
He promised them that their reward would be worth it when it came. Last night, he said his players were “f**king fantastic” and said they ran and fought and played all year with the kind of spirit you need to win leagues.
Having convinced Ronaldo that he is not in fact invincible by taking him off in a game late in March against Athletic Bilbao, he also let the squad and the world know that under his cool and calm demeanour was a steely and, at times, ruthless operator. Since then, the Portuguese has played in 11 and scored 14 times as talk of another
Ballon d’Or starts up again.
Real Madrid knew they had to be at their very best with Lionel Messi and Barcelona lurking, as you always have to be. One of the things Zidane pointed towards in preparing for the season was how the fitness staff and the team’s physical preparation needed to improve. He brought in Antonio Pintus from Lyon and you get the sense that if the
league went on for another 38 weeks, they would still be left standing atop the pile. Zidane helped to set excellent standards without ever rejecting the reality of some of their situations. Even after a loss to Sevilla that saw them end their 40-game unbeaten run, Zidane admitted, “You have to accept the result. We know something could happen but we'll use this as motivation for the next game. We knew it was logical that one day the unbeaten run would come to an end.”
And while Barcelona might cry foul, the real story of their season is how they have not been good enough all year. From their transfer dealings both in and out, to their play on the field and their tactics off it. And they know it too. The cries to the palco in an effort to ruffle the feathers of Javier Tebas from Pique and the comments from
the same man indicating that Barcelona "already know how these things work" were just distractions. Distractions from a truth we have known for quite some time; Barcelona were clutching at straws and relying on late, great, last gasp heroics of a little Argentine that, as a strategy, can not be considered a strategy at all. Luis Enrique walks out after a season of, perhaps not disharmony, but definitely not harmony and Ernesto Valverde appears the man to replace him from Athletic Bilbao.
And in the end, it was Malaga who would help decide the title. And not on Sunday either. They did so three weeks ago upon beating Barcelona 2-1 that showed the blaugranas in a warts and all display. One headline ran, “Málaga maul unconvincing Barça as Neymar sees red” but Luis Enrique remained defiant, insisting his side were superior and that they deserved to win. It was a team and a manager who had failed to match up reality with expectations of themselves and the fans. The cracks were already there to see and Malaga just helped to expose them.
Real Madrid can hold their heads high because while hand balls and other points of scrutiny will get you sympathy from your own support and be the source of plenty of analysis, the ball never lies.