x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

A virtual reality in Spanish football

Madrid will win the Primera Liga title but Jose Mourinho's team are also looking to re-establish their hegemony, writes Andy Mitten.

Real Madrid are aiming for Cristiano Ronaldo, their Portuguese forward, to retain his Pichichi. Dani Pozo / AFP
Real Madrid are aiming for Cristiano Ronaldo, their Portuguese forward, to retain his Pichichi. Dani Pozo / AFP

Police prepared the crowd barriers around Madrid's Cibeles fountain on Sunday night in anticipation of a celebration.

Real Madrid fans flock to the fountain to celebrate trophies and had Barcelona not beaten Rayo Vallecano five kilometres away, Real would have been champions for the first time since 2008.

The Catalans won 7-0, taking them past the 100-goals mark for this league season, and the barriers were put back into storage. Not for long.

Jose Mourinho's side will be champions before they kick off against an exhausted Athletic Bilbao tonight in the Basque Country if Barca fail to beat fourth-placed Malaga at home. Even if they do, they can win if they beat the Basques in a stadium where they are loathed.

So you can understand why the champagne was loaded on to the Madrid flight north yesterday, understand why fans in the Bernabeu were singing "Campeones! Campeones!" in Sunday's 3-0 win over Sevilla.

The impending title has not made up for the disappointment of losing to Bayern Munich on penalties. With Barca eliminated the night before Real played Bayern, their fans were confident of a 10th league and European Cup double.

Their glorious European history has bestowed on their fans a misguided sense of entitlement in Europe, so Bayern's victory via penalties punctured their dream of reasserting their hegemony over Barca and home and abroad. One out of two cups will suffice, though, and the title means this season will be judged a success for an increasingly emboldened Mourinho and his players.

With no Champions League final to worry about, Madrid will not repeat Barca's habit of easing up in the final weeks of the season. They have set themselves a total of 100 points, which requires three victories from their remaining games. They want Ronaldo to retain his Pichichi, despite Lionel Messi's two goals on Sunday seeing him draw level with an astonishing 43 goals.

And they wanted to become the first team to have three players scoring 20 or more league goals in a season, a feat achieved on Sunday when Karim Benzema's two goals took him to 20. The third, Gonzalo Higuain, has 21.

They are the best and they want to show the world emphatically. How very Real.

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