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MADRID, Spain, April 30 – Real Madrid won La Liga on Saturday after a 4-0 win over Espanyol left them 17 points clear of Sevilla with four games remaining.

Here, AFP Sport looks back at five players who have made the difference this season for the new Spanish champions.

Karim Benzema

There are a handful of Real Madrid players who claim to have been the team’s best player this season, but none can say they have been more important than Benzema, who is the only one who cannot be replaced by adequately.

Granted, his value in the side is, in a small part, also down to Madrid’s lack of quality reinforcements, but the level Benzema has reached this season is astonishing.

He is by far the top scorer in La Liga, with 11 goals separating his 26 from second-best, and he is the highest in assists.

After the departures of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, Benzema’s moment has finally come in 2021/22 and few would argue if he had capped off an incredible season by winning the Ballon d’Or later this year.

Luka Modric

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Modric turned 36 in September, but watching the Croatian this term has been like watching a box-to-box midfielder in his prime.

With 46 appearances for club and country, Modric was rarely rested or turned on as concerns earlier in the season over fatigue or injury failed to materialize, with Modric finishing as strong as he started.

There were no obvious signs even of Modric adjusting or reducing his role. He’s been Madrid’s midfield metronome, accepting possession in the smaller spaces before unleashing others in the bigger ones, all the while throwing himself into tackles, chasing and showing the kind of leadership this team has. emerging Real Madrid needed.

Along with Benzema, Modric was Madrid’s best player of the season.

Vinicius Junior

It’s easy to forget the scale of Vinicius’ transformation this season.

The Brazilian became one of the most dangerous strikers in the world under Carlo Ancelotti, leaving behind the thrilling but erratic performances that frustrated and entertained Madrid fans in equal measure.

Vinicius is now a cold, composed finisher and a calm, precise partner for Benzema, his combinations with the Frenchman perhaps the single defining feature of Real Madrid’s dominance this season.

Together, the pair have 40 goals and 20 assists in La Liga, numbers that Madrid’s rivals simply couldn’t match.

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Thibaut Courtois

Courtois’ contribution may not have been as obvious as that of Benzema, Modric and Vinicius, but the Belgian has come to the rescue of Real Madrid more times than the champions’ dominance in the standings would suggest.

On numerous occasions, Courtois made important saves in tight games, robbing opponents of confidence and momentum while allowing Benzema and Vinicius to make the difference at the other end.

Courtois may not be the most agile with his feet, although he has improved there too, but his presence, surface control and shot saves mean he is now one of the best goalkeepers in the world.

David Alaba

Alaba’s arrival on a free transfer must surely be among the bargains of the season, not only in Spain, but all over Europe.

The Austrian came on the heels of Sergio Ramos’ abrupt departure to Paris Saint-Germain and Raphael Varane’s departure to Manchester United, resulting in the total breakdown of one of the most reliable defensive duos of the last decade.

But Alaba helped fill the void alongside the vastly improved Eder Militao and together they formed a reliable, physical and dynamic duo that meant Ramos and Varane were, if not forgotten, hardly missed.

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