Football Football

Real take glory, Guardiola bids farewell


MADRID, Spain, May 14 – The La Liga season started on the back of three consecutive Barcelona title triumphs, dating back to Pep Guardiola taking the reigns at the club for the 2008-09 season.

The Catalan coach also added two Champions Leagues, a Spanish Cup, with one more to play for later this month, and various other trophies that currently add up to a haul of 13 in four seasons.

So for some it is still difficult to comprehend the outcome of this season’s competition that saw Barcelona relinquish their grip on the title to Real Madrid, go out to Chelsea in the Champions League semi-final and, most significantly, Guardiola’s decision to stand down as the most sucessful manager the club has ever had.

Jose Mourinho, more than anyone else, has been central to this very Spanish drama where the power has shifted from the Catalan coastal city to the Spanish capital as Real Madrid claimed their 32nd Spanish title.

Arriving in Madrid for the start of the last of Barca’s trio of titles with a squad full of stars, Mourinho had one remit, to stop their greatest rivals.

He began by taking a Spanish Cup from them in his first season, but could not stop the ‘blaugrana’ from claiming another title and the Champions League.

This season, however, Madrid’s title with a record-breaking 100 points was a prize for their consistency.

Mourinho’s side scored a record 121 goals, winning 32 out of 38 games, 16 each both home and away.

Cristiano Ronaldo managed 46 of those goals. However, in a season of records, Lionel Messi went one step further in notching 50.

Madrid can also look to the contributions of Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuain, with 21 and 22 goals, and midfielders Xabi Alonso, consistent as ever and Angel Di Maria whose assists helped them to many victories before injury hampered his season.

At the back, Sergio Ramos and Pepe were dominant in the centre of defence meaning Madrid rarely looked in trouble once they went ahead.

Their defensive record of conceding 32 in 38 games was very similar to that of Barca who only saw 29 goals go past them all season.

Third-placed Valencia were not able to live with the top two but still guaranteed themselves Champion League football, despite racking up the lowest points total — 61 — for a third-placed side since La Liga moved to 20 teams in 1987-88.

Finishing 30 points behind Barca, and 39 behind the champions, illustrates how much of a gap there is between the top two and the rest.

Malaga also qualified for the Champions League in fourth place after their new Qatari owner Abdullah Al-Thani invested big last summer.

Atletico Madrid had to be content with a Europa League place, after winning that trophy for the second time in three years against an Athletic Bilbao side that also qualified for the competition due to their Spanish Cup final appearance against Barca.

Minnows Levante also qualified for the Europa League, for the first time, to cap a fantastic season in which they were early surprise leaders.

At the bottom, Racing Santander were relegated with three games remaining and never looked strong enough to survive.

Sporting Gijon joined them despite giving themselves hope until the final day and up to four other sides could have joined them going into those final 90 minutes.

In the end, it was Villarreal who filled the third relegation place after late drama.

With two minutes remaining the team who began the season in the Champions League, and had reached last year’s Europa League semi-finals, were safe.

Suddenly a late header from Radamel Falcao to lose 1-0 at home to Atletico Madrid, followed by a Raul Tamudo goal 60 seconds later to give Rayo Vallecano victory over Granada, condemned the ‘yellow submarine’ to a return to the second division where they have not been since the 1998-99 season.