Real Madrid have won the 2019-20 La Liga title with a game to spare after a 2-1 win over Villarreal at the Alfredo Di Stefano Stadium.
Karim Benzema scored both goals – the second a retaken spot-kick after the initial kick had been bungled by Sergio Ramos – to set Real on their way to a first league title in three years.
Ramos had rolled the first attempt for Benzema to smash in but the effort was disallowed.
Villarreal had Nigerian international Samuel Chukwueze on from the start but the winger was replaced at the interval after a subdued performance.
Vicente Iborra pulled one back for the visitors seven minutes to ensure a nervy end to the game.
Substitute Marco Asensio then had a late effort ruled out by VAR but it was of little importance as Zinedine Zidane’s side held on to claim a 34th Spanish crown.
“It has been a strange season but our objective was very clear once the league restarted,” said Ramos afterwards.
“We wanted to win every game. This is the reward for all our hard work. 34 leagues, my fifth title.”
Real went into the game four points ahead of nearest rivals Barcelona and needed to win or avoid defeat and hope that Barcelona lose at home to Osasuna to clinch the title.
Los Blancos held up their part of the bargain but Barca surprisingly lost 2-1 to 10-man Osasuna as their disappointing campaign dived to new depths.
Real head into the final day of the season with an unassailable seven-point lead over Barcelona.
Zinedine Zidane’s side have won all 10 of their matches since Spanish football restarted in June.
Real’s first league title since 2017 would be all the more satisfying for the club given how they won.
While the Lily Whites have found great success in the Champions League, their domestic fortunes have been less than stellar as they have laboured under the shadow of fierce rivals Barcelona.
They won three successive European Cups in Zidane’s first tenure but had recorded successive third-place finishes since their previous domestic title, as Barcelona were crowned champions.
Indeed, the 2019-20 title is only their third in the past nine seasons.
Zidane, who led Real to their last title triumph in 2017, declared he aimed to reclaim the title after returning midway through the last campaign – less than a year after his departure.
It appeared that Real were destined to fall short once again when football in Spain was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic in March, with Barcelona top of the table.
But Real resumed the season in fiery form and never looked back while Barcelona besieged by on-field and off-field problems imploded to give up their title meekly.
Real’s triumph owes a lot to the leadership of captain Ramos who has scored 10 times in La Liga but especially, to the maturity of striker Karim Benzema who has developed into a real talisman after years of being in Cristiano Ronaldo’s shadow.
The Frenchman has scored seven times since the restart and has 21 goals in the league – second on the scorer’s chart behind Lionel Messi who has two more.
And it is all down to the unassuming managerial genius of the legendary Zidane who has built an unfancied team into title winners. A feat his players celebrated by hoisting him into the air at the final whistle.
“Zidane has been key, he is the captain of the ship and led us from the start of the season – we have always felt protected with Zizou. He is a unique coach,” Ramos acknowledged.