MADRID, Spain, April 30 — Real Madrid won La Liga on Saturday after a dominant season in Spain that left their rivals unable to keep up.
Here, AFP Sport take a look at where Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Sevilla, Real Sociedad and Real Betis all went wrong as Real Madrid claimed their 35th league title.
– Barcelona –
Barca won just four of their first 12 games under Ronald Koeman and never recovered, giving Real Madrid an early advantage they would never recover.
By the time Xavi Hernandez was appointed in November, the Catalans were ninth, 10 points from the summit, and although there was some recovery following the return of the club’s legendary midfielder, Madrid never succumbed to the kind of collapse needed to allow Barcelona to return to .
During the first half of the season, Barca struggled for chances and goals, their game too heavy and predictable to open teams up.
The arrival of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and the revival of Ousmane Dembele led to a surge in the spring, including beating Madrid 4-0 at the Santiago Bernabeu, but just as hopes of a comeback began to grow, the Barca collapsed. A disappointing decline in recent weeks shows that there is still work to be done.
– Atlético Madrid –
Atletico kept pace with Real Madrid in the opening weeks of the season and many believed the defending champions would be up for the challenge again.
Luis Suarez scored six goals before the end of October and last-minute wins over Espanyol, Getafe and Osasuna suggested Atleti might have that grit and luck traditionally associated with champions.
But narrow wins quickly gave way to draws and defeats, with Atletico losing four straight league games in December for the first time under Diego Simeone.
There were doubts over Simeone’s style, identity and future – a crisis meeting after yet another home defeat to bottom club Levante cleared the air, with the top four now within reach, but Real Madrid was then out of sight.
– Seville –
For most of the season, Sevilla have been Real Madrid’s closest and only real challenger, keeping pace with Carlo Ancelotti’s side long after the others have fallen.
At the end of October, they were a point behind with a game less, the first of several moments when it looked like Sevilla were a good distance away from putting Real under pressure.
Each time they blinked, failing to capitalize as Madrid slipped and ultimately crumbled as Madrid pulled away.
In January, Sevilla kept Diego Carlos and signed Anthony Martial, a signal that the club at least believed there was an opening to exploit. On the pitch there seemed to be a lack of belief that this title could truly be theirs and in the end Sevilla were far from close.
– Real Betis –
Betis were third halfway through the season and a strong run at the start of the year had them just five points off the top in January, with one game less.
But back-to-back defeats to Sevilla and Atletico extended Betis’ poor record against top sides and ended any dim hopes of a title challenge.
Their run in the Copa del Rey also diverted the league’s attention, but beating Valencia to lift the cup in April confirmed what has been a great season for Manuel Pellegrini’s side.
The Basque club were early favorites, even leading after 13 games played in November.
Imanol Aguacil’s side are renowned for their free-flowing attacking football, but some hard-fought wins in the first three months of the season have left some wondering if they’ve added the trickery needed to meet a sustained challenge.
Those hopes were dashed, however, in a disappointing run either side of Christmas, but a better run over the past two months means La Real should still finish in the top six and qualify for Europe.