REUTERS - Real Madrid secured their 33rd La Liga crown on Sunday with their 2-0 win at Malaga, finishing three points above Barcelona and ending a five-year spell without a league title.
Here are five games that were crucial to Zinedine Zidane’s side pipping Barca to the trophy.
Barcelona 1-2 Alaves, Sept. 10
The champions’ misguided spending the previous summer was laid bare as Luis Enrique’s heavily rotated side, containing four new signings, suffered a shock defeat at home to newly promoted Alaves.
Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Andres Iniesta were thrown on in an attempt to rescue the game but it could not avert a stunning loss which raised questions about the new recruits.
Real Betis 1-6 Real Madrid, Oct. 15
Zinedine Zidane went into the match against Real Betis under fire after four back-to-back draws in all competitions but a thumping win proved a fine tonic for the Frenchman’s stuttering side.
Real took the lead in the fourth minute through Raphael Varane and increased their lead to 4-0 before half-time. The thrashing restored their confidence and was the first step of a six-game winning streak that saw them race clear at the top.
Barcelona 1-1 Real Madrid, Dec. 3
The first ‘Clasico’ of the season offered Barca the chance to cut their six-point deficit with Real in half. Luis Suarez headed them in front, but Andres Iniesta, Lionel Messi and Neymar wasted chances to kill the game off.
Not for the first time, Real were rescued by a late header from captain Sergio Ramos, who powered in a Luka Modric cross in the 90th minute to frustrate Barca and preserve Madrid’s healthy lead at the top.
Villarreal 2-3 Real Madrid, Feb. 26
Real were under huge pressure to win at an in-form Villarreal after Barca had gone top by snatching a late win at Atletico Madrid, but they fell two goals behind early in the second half.
A Gareth Bale header sparked a remarkable 19-minute turnaround, however, helped by a hugely contested penalty which was converted by Cristiano Ronaldo.
Substitute Alvaro Morata’s header then grabbed all three points to restore Real’s lead in the standings.
Malaga 2-0 Barcelona, April 8
A late equaliser by Antoine Griezmann in the Madrid derby should have galvanised Barcelona when they then played struggling Malaga with the chance to go level on points at the top. But the Andalusians, coached by Real hero Michel, had other ideas.
Barca reject Sandro Ramirez fired Malaga ahead in the first half and the visitors’ frustrations grew when Neymar was sent off for a second booking. With hope of an equaliser fading fast, Jony Rodriguez hit a second for Malaga, sealing a fourth league defeat for Barca and effectively killing their title hopes.
Reporting by Richard Martin; editing by Richard Lough