Real Madrid reigns in Spain again.
Zinedine Zidane's side put the finishing touches on the club's 34th Spanish league title, beating Villarreal 2-1 on Thursday to move mathematically clear of Barcelona with one game left to play this season. The title extends Real Madrid's all-time Spanish record and is its first since the 2016-17 season.
Real Madrid won the title by being perfect after La Liga's restart. The club has won all 10 of its games since play resumed following the pandemic-induced shutdown, while Barcelona dropped points in three draws and a loss along the way, allowing Real Madrid to make up a small deficit and claim first place to deny its rival of a three-peat. Los Blancos also had the tiebreaker over Barcelona due to a superior head-to-head record. The clubs played to a scoreless draw in one Clasico in December, while Real Madrid won the one played at home in March.
Real Madrid managed to win the title without significant contributions from the array of stars it signed last summer, when the club's directors went to work to outfit Zidane with over $300 million worth of reinforcements to what has been an aging squad. Eden Hazard was significantly limited by injury, while Luka Jovic, Eder Militao, Ferland Mendy and Rodrygo were all largely peripheral figures in the club's success this season. They combined for just 57 league starts between them, while Hazard, who joined for $113 million from Chelsea, scored just one league goal.
Two of Real Madrid's biggest global stars, James Rodriguez and Gareth Bale, spent more time in headlines regarding their inactivity and futures than they did in the spotlight on the field.
Instead, it was stalwarts like Karim Benzema and Sergio Ramos leading the way along with a resolute defense, which has conceded just 23 goals all season, the lowest total in the league.
Benzema's 21 league goals are second just to Lionel Messi's 23, while Ramos, even as a defender, has five goals since the restart, including game-winning penalty kicks against Getafe and Athletic Bilbao that prevented Real Madrid from dropping precious points at a time when the race was still heavily in the balance.
The trophy is the 11th won by Zidane in three-plus seasons as Real Madrid manager, despite nearly a full year taken off after winning a third straight Champions League crown in 2018. He'll look to make it 12 when the Champions League resumes, though Real Madrid trails Manchester City 2-1 heading into the second leg of the round of 16 that will be hosted by Pep Guardiola's club. Should Real Madrid overturn the deficit, it would face Lyon or Juventus in the quarterfinals.