DERMOT CORRIGAN: Small margins as Ronaldo and Real on the edge of more glory

The LaLiga title will be decided on the final day again this year, with Real Madrid going to Malaga tomorrow night (7pm Irish time) needing just a point to lift the trophy, no matter what Barcelona do at home to Eibar at the same time.

Cristiano Ronaldo gestures after missing a goal opportunity during the clash with RC Celta de Vigo at Balaidos stadium in Vigo.

Zinedine Zidane’s side have been in control of the title race for most of the campaign, and went three points clear at the top by beating Celta Vigo 4-1 on Wednesday evening, with a rampantly in-form Cristiano Ronaldo scoring twice.

Although Ronaldo remains top scorer, and top dog, at the Bernabeu, Madrid’s success this year has been about much more than their star names. Zidane has bravely instigated a rotation policy which has shared out playing time and seen 19 squad members score in LaLiga this term. Over the 38 games, lesser profile back-ups such as Lucas Vazquez, Marco Asensio, Nacho Fernandez, and Mateo Kovacic have arguably made bigger contributions than expensive galacticos Gareth Bale and James Rodriguez.

“The boss has managed things very well this year,” Ronaldo said this week. “We’ve a very good squad, with lots of good young players and others with experience. It has gone well, and this is when things are decided.”

Madrid are huge favourites to win at Malaga, but there is still plenty of final day intrigue, as usual in conspiracy-theory friendly Spain. Many have focused on Malaga’s coach being ex-Madrid and Spain midfielder Michel, whose team have taken 13 points from their last five games, but are expected by some blaugrana pundits to roll over.

Meanwhile, the Andalusians’ former Barca striker Sandro Ramirez has seven goals in his last eight appearances and is on record as saying he hopes to score the winner and help out his old teammates.

Just a few weeks ago most observers thought any final day drama unlikely, given Barca’s season looked already over with coach Luis Enrique having confirmed his exit. His side were inconsistent throughout, and managed to lose against all of Alaves, Celta Vigo, Deportivo La Coruna, and Malaga. After their Champions League exit to Juventus, many minds at the Camp Nou had already turned to next season.

But they kept themselves in the race by winning April’s Clasico 3-2 at the Bernabeu, thanks to Lionel Messi’s injury-time strike, and therefore will take the title on ‘head to head’ advantage if Madrid lose on Sunday and Barca win.

Messi also recently got a late winner at third-placed Atletico Madrid, and two goals in a 3-0 over fourth-placed Sevilla. The Argentinian has at times seemed on a personal mission to deny Madrid, and will win the top scorer ‘Pichichi’ trophy even if he doesn’t add to his 35 league goals tomorrow.

If things do swing around, Luis Enrique will leave having won the title in all three years in charge. And Barca will then face minnows Alaves in next Saturday’s Copa del Rey final — which could provide either a consolation after a poor season, or a third straight domestic double.

“In the last three years we’ve won eight out of 11 trophies,” said blaugrana president Josep Bartomeu in defensive mode this week. “That could be 10 out of 13 if we win the league and the cup this season.”

More likely though is Madrid celebrating their first domestic title in five years tomorrow evening, with a rested Ronaldo adding a couple more goals to his own personal tally.

Los Blancos could then head into June 3’s Champions League final against Juventus in Cardiff in a positive mood, looking to compete their club’s first LaLiga / European Cup double since 1958.

LaLiga has seen six collapses on last day

The LaLiga race has been decided 35 times on the final day, with the leaders faltering to allow in the second placed side on six occasions.

Many in Spain this week have been recalling the 1991/92 and 1992/93 seasons, when Real Madrid twice went to Tenerife knowing a win would secure the title, but blew up in super dramatic fashion, letting in Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona to take the trophy both times.

Many legends still circle around what exactly happened both years, and Tenerife players have since confirmed suitcases of cash containing ‘incentive’ payments were received from Catalonia. Adding to the spice, the islanders’ manager then was ex-Madrid player and future coach and sporting director Jorge Valdano, just as former Bernabeu hero Michel is in charge of Malaga now.

The last final day when the top two reversed positions was 1993/94, maybe the most dramatic La Liga title race ever.

Deportivo La Coruna just needed to beat Valencia at home to seal their first ever Spanish title, having lead the table for months. But Depor defender Miroslav Djukic missed a last-minute penalty, and Cruyff’s Barca overtook them by beating Sevilla 5-2 at home.

Since then, including in each of the last three years, the team with the advantage on the morning of the final day has always held on to lift the trophy. But as former Madrid and Barca player Luis Enrique recalled the other day: “We have seen many strange things happen late in La Liga seasons.”

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