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Real Madrid still playing catch-up with Barcelona: La Liga end of season review

Despite the twists of turns in Spain's top-flight this season, the top-four remained the same

Lionel Messi and Barcelona were once again far superior to Real Madrid this La Liga season. EPA
Lionel Messi and Barcelona were once again far superior to Real Madrid this La Liga season. EPA

For all the twists and turns, the top four in Spain’s La Liga table finished in exactly the same positions as a year ago.

Barca won with ease to register their eighth title in 11 years. It still wasn’t enough for some of their supporters who were outraged at the manner of their Uefa Champions League elimination by Liverpool.

Atletico Madrid were comfortably second, but will be without four of their stalwarts - Antoine Griezmann and Diego Godin, Felipe Luis and Juanfran - next season. Saul and Rodri will likely leave for England, too, and deplete the team still further, but they are now a powerhouse of a club with an excellent recruiting strategy and money.

Most importantly, they have Diego Simeone, a man who made the Primera Liga into a three horse race.

Real Madrid were unchallenged for third but ended the season a massive 19 points behind Barca. The gap was 17 points a year ago.

Valencia, once again, finished fourth, though their trajectory was vastly different from last season when they hit fourth after five games and were there mostly for the duration.

Valencia were 16th after five games this season, 15th after 10, 11th after 20 and had risen to fifth after 30. They only climbed as high as fourth after 37 of the 38 games. They drew eighth of their opening 10 games, won seven and didn’t draw any of their last 10. Valencia also reached the Europa League semi-finals and will play Barcelona in next Saturday’s Copa del Rey final in Seville.

Valencia’s rise was harsh on Getafe, who looked set to finish fourth and play Champions League football for the first time in their history, but fifth is still the highest-ever finish for the Madrid side and they rightly celebrated their achievement.

They will be joined in the Europa League by Espanyol, who won five and drew four of their last nine league games for their highest finish since 2005.

Basque giants Athletic Bilbao and Real Sociedad just missed out of European football, while Girona, Huesca and Rayo Vallecano were relegated.

What the biggest two do next will occupy the front pages throughout the close season, the first since 2013 when a Spanish team won't be European champions.

World champions in December, Real Madrid accumulated their worst domestic points tally since 2002 when they also finished third. Yet they won the Champions League that season. They have no consolation at the moment.

They will watch the final of the Champions League, a competition they’ve dominated like no team since themselves in the 1950s, be played in their home city in two weeks time.

Madrid hope that after trying two other managers, Zinedine Zidane can return them to the greatness to which they became accustomed.

Zidane doesn't have Cristiano Ronaldo and the club are determined to move Gareth Bale’s vast salary off their books after six incredible, injury punctured years in Spain.

Madrid will spend heavily in the close season with Eden Hazard, Paul Pogba, plus Eintract Frankfurt striker Luka Jovic, their A-list targets. Jovic, a superb finisher, can provide competition for Karim Benzema. The Frenchman scored over 30 goals in all competitions for his club for the first time since 2011-12. Madrid will also say goodbye to Keylor Navas, a successful, popular goalkeeper.

Barcelona aim to stay at the top. Frenkie de Jong will join from Ajax, Antoine Griezman from Atletico. Those two alone should be enough to significantly boost the champions for whom Lionel Messi remains the best player in the world, yet the Catalans also have their eyes on Ajax’s 19-year-old captain Matthijs de Ligt.

Barca, who have the highest wage bill in world football, need to sell players to reduce it. They feel that Philippe Coutinho, Ivan Rakitic and Samuel Umtiti will attract the highest transfer fees of the players they want to move on.

Updated: May 20, 2019 08:18 AM



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