MADRID — Real Madrid ended up winning the 2021-22 LaLiga title in dominant fashion, despite struggling at the beginning of the season and taking months to claim top spot in the standings.
It wasn’t until mid-November when Carlo Ancelotti’s team managed to leapfrog Real Sociedad atop the league, putting into perspective how remarkable their mid-to-late season run has been.
They clinched their 35th Spanish league title with almost a month of the season remaining following their 4-0 home win over Espanyol on Saturday and can reach their 17th Champions League final if they beat Manchester City this week.
Real holds a 17-point advantage over second-placed Sevilla and with four games remaining are close to breaking the record for the highest point difference of a title-winning side in LaLiga, held by Tito Vilanova’s Barcelona in 2012-13 who won the title 15 points ahead of Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid.
It has been an unusual season for Real as they were questioned by pundits even when they were claiming victories and widening the gap against their closest rivals.
Real was never perfect during their incredible run and won’t be remembered as the most spectacular or flamboyant champions.
However, they had grit and persistence, earning six of their last nine league wins with goals scored late in the second half, some in breathtaking fashion like coming from two goals down to win 3-2 at Sevilla two weeks ago. That win had the double effect of taking Julen Lopetegui’s team out of the title race.
True grit was also in full display in the Champions League, when the 13-times European champions fought back to beat both Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) and Chelsea to reach the semifinals.
In a year that Barcelona and holder Atletico Madrid struggled with inconsistency, Ancelotti’s biggest virtue was keeping things simple and relying on individual talents.
The coach needed patience to handle a locker room full of veterans that were believed to have passed their prime and young prospects that were still to reach their full potential.
After a slow start to the season, his side was gaining momentum as the months passed with Ancelotti building a defensive team that was willing to play on the counter.
Karim Benzema has had a stellar year, scoring 42 goals in 42 games in all competitions so far, also helping to unleash the potential of 21-year-old winger Vinicius, Jr.
Luka Modrić, 36, belied his age to prove instrumental against PSG and Chelsea, hitting game-changing passes to set up Benzema and Vinicius.
Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois has helped keep Real alive on the big occasions, aided by defenders David Alaba and 24-year-old Eder Militao, who have both excelled.
Casemiro continues to be rock solid in the middle of the pitch and Rodrygo, Eduardo Camavinga, and Federico Valverde have all had a break-out season showing that they are ready to be a major part of the club’s future. — Reuters