It was Real Madrid’s first league title since Cristiano Ronaldo left to join Juventus two seasons ago
By TALES AZZONI, AP Sports Writer
MADRID (AP) — There was Zinedine Zidane again, being thrown into the air by his Real Madrid players in another title celebration.
With the Frenchman back in charge, Madrid is back to collecting major trophies.
Madrid clinched its 34th Spanish league title — and first since 2017 — after extending its perfect run following the pandemic break with a 2-1 win over Villarreal on Thursday, opening a seven-point gap to second-place Barcelona with one round to go. Barcelona lost to 10-man Osasuna at the Camp Nou Stadium.
Karim Benzema scored twice to give Madrid its 10th consecutive league victory. It was the only team with a perfect record after the coronavirus-enforced break, having trailed Barcelona by two points before the league was halted.
“This is one of the best days in my life professionally,” said Zidane, who also won the Champions League and World Cup as a player. “It’s another league title, after the confinement and everything else that happened. I wish we could celebrate with the fans, but I’m sure they are very happy at home seeing their team win the league again.”
Zidane quit as Madrid coach in 2018 after leading the team to three straight Champions League titles, then returned less than a year later with the team floundering. In his first full season back in charge, Madrid wrested the league title away from Barcelona for the first time in three years.
It was also Madrid’s first league title since Cristiano Ronaldo left to join Juventus two seasons ago.
The title celebrations were subdued as the triumph came with Madrid playing at its training center because the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium remains undergoing renovation work.
Fans have not been allowed into games since the pandemic, and Madrid had warned supporters not to gather at the team’s traditional celebration spots in the Spanish capital. Most of the early celebrations came from fans honking their car horns across the city’s streets.
Captain Sergio Ramos lifted the trophy at the empty Alfredo Di Stéfano Stadium as confetti went into the air behind him and his teammates. Players later threw Zidane into the air a few times, then they all posed for photos in front of one of the goals.
"It has been a strange season after everything that has happened,” said Ramos, who won his fifth Spanish league title. “After the confinement we knew that we had to win every match to clinch the title. There was no margin for error.”
Barcelona had won the last two league titles but stuttered after the break, drawing three times and losing once after the league resumed.
Benzema — one of Madrid’s key players this season — opened the scoring with a shot from inside the area in the 29th minute and added to the lead by converting a penalty in the 77th, reaching 21 league goals and moving within two of scoring leader Lionel Messi, who netted for Barcelona against Osasuna.
Benzema’s goal from the penalty spot came after Ramos’ initial attempt was called back after he just rolled the ball sideways to Benzema to score. The French striker had entered the area too soon and the penalty had to be taken again.
Luka Modric set up Benzema’s first goal after a breakaway that started near midfield.
Fifth-place Villarreal pulled one back with a header by Vicente Iborra in the 83rd. It was denied an equalizer by a great save by Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois in stoppage time.
Madrid’s Marco Asensio had a goal disallowed moments later.
Barcelona needed to win its match and hope Madrid slipped up. Instead it lost 2-1 at home against midtable Osasuna.
Messi scored his league-leading 23rd goal from a free kick in the second half to cancel out José Arnaíz’s opener.
Osasuna lost substitute Enric Gallego to a direct red card for bloodying the mouth of Barcelona defender Clement Lenglet with an elbow to the face in the 77th.
But Osasuna’s Roberto Torres scored in stoppage time with Barcelona pushing forward searching for a late goal.
It was Barcelona's first home loss in the league since a 4-3 result against Real Betis in Nov. 2018.
Messi said it was “not the way” Barcelona wanted to end the season.
“Madrid did its part by winning all its matches, which is impressive, but we also helped them to win this league,” Messi said. “We have to be critical of how we have played, starting with the players, and for the rest of the club.”
Mallorca became the second team to be relegated after a 2-1 loss to Granada at home. Espanyol had already been demoted. Leganés keep its chances of survival alive thanks to a 2-0 win at Athletic Bilbao. Celta Vigo stayed just outside the relegation zone after a 3-2 loss against Levante at home.
Third-place Atlético Madrid won 2-0 at seventh-place Getafe, while fourth-place Sevilla drew 0-0 at sixth-place Real Sociedad. Valencia moved into eighth place to keep alive its hopes of grabbing a Europa League spot after a 1-0 win against last-place Espanyol.
There was a total of nine red cards handed out during the 10 games.