How Zidane and Ronaldo led Madrid to Spanish league title
ABS-CBN Sports on May 22, 2017 11:07 AM
Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates with Real Madrid's head coach Zinedine Zidane after winning a Spanish La Liga soccer match between Malaga and Real Madrid in Malaga, Spain, Sunday, May 21, 2017. Real Madrid wins the Spanish league for the first time in five years, avoiding its biggest title drought since the 1980s. (AP Photo/Daniel Tejedor)
TALES AZZONI, AP Sports Writer
MADRID (AP) — Real Madrid won its 33rd league title on Sunday to move nine ahead all-time of rival Barcelona.
Madrid claimed its first title since 2012 and kept Barcelona from its third straight championship.
Madrid stayed in front of its rival during most of the season and capped its title run with a 2-0 win at Malaga in the final round. It finished with 93 points, three more than Barcelona.
How did Madrid do it this time? Here are a few reasons.
Cristiano Ronaldo didn't put up his greatest numbers this season, but he was decisive when the team needed him the most.
He paced himself to arrive at the final stretch at his best, and it showed with key performances both in the Champions League and the Spanish league.
The 32-year-old Portuguese star scored 14 goals in his last nine games, including one against Malaga on Sunday.
Ronaldo had five goals in Madrid's final three matches in La Liga. He finished with 25 goals for the season in the league, four less than Barcelona striker Luis Suarez and 12 less than teammate Lionel Messi.
Coach Zinedine Zidane looked like a veteran despite being on the job for less than 1 ½ years.
The former France great commanded Madrid like a veteran, keeping the squad competitive from start to finish.
Zidane used several different formations and resorted to rotations to keep his top players fresh at the important moments of the season.
It resulted in Madrid celebrating the title in his first full season as a coach in the league.
Even Ronaldo, who rarely missed any matches in past seasons, agreed to skip some games so he could be in strong form in the final stretch. He was sidelined for four straight away matches in the league before thriving in the last three that he played.
Zidane often fielded squads with only a couple of regular starters and Madrid still kept winning matches and maintaining its lead.
With reserves who would be starters in most teams, Madrid kept playing well while its top players got some rest.
Among the so-called second-stringers who thrived for Madrid were Francisco "Isco" Alarcon, James Rodriguez and Alvaro Morata.
Other players who did well off the bench included Lucas Vazquez, Marco Asensio and Mateo Kovacic.
Isco was by far the most important "reserve" for Madrid, successfully taking over for Gareth Bale when the Wales forward missed several matches because of injuries.
The Spain midfielder reached the end of the season with many fans wanting him in the starting lineup even when Bale and other top players were fit.
Zidane said many times that it was difficult to leave Isco out.
He played well in several different positions, but Isco was at his best while filling spaces between attackers and midfielders, creating scoring opportunities both for himself and his teammates.
Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni