TI­TLE WITHIN GRASP

Real just a point away from re­gain­ing La Liga crown after five years

New Straits Times - - Sport -

REAL Madrid can al­most touch the La Liga ti­tle after a five year wait, need­ing only to avoid de­feat to Malaga to­mor­row to grab the tro­phy from the hands of arch ri­vals Barcelona.

Real lead the stand­ings on 90 points, three above Barcelona. Stand­ing in the way of a first ti­tle since 2012 are a Malaga side with lit­tle at stake and who are coached by Michel, who spent 14 tro­phy laden sea­sons at the Bern­abeu.

Madrid fa­mously squan­dered two con­sec­u­tive titles in 1992 and 1993 away to Tener­ife, then coached by another Real great, Jorge Val­dano, hand­ing the tro­phy to Barcelona on the fi­nal day.

Michel stirred con­tro­versy in a ra­dio in­ter­view last month when he de­clared “I’m a much big­ger Madrid fan than Val­dano.”

How­ever, Michel, who over­saw a sur­prise 2-0 win over Barca in April, has promised to treat the game like any other: “It’s my Madrid but also my Malaga. I have to re­spect the com­pe­ti­tion and al­ways go out to win.”

Barcelona host Eibar and coach Luis En­rique last month said his side’s hopes of steal­ing the league in the fi­nal match were as likely as pigs fly­ing. In his last me­dia ap­pear­ance, though, he said Malaga had beaten Barca and could spring a sur­prise on Madrid too.

Real opened up a three-point lead at the top with a 4-1 win over Celta Vigo on Wed­nes­day, re­turn­ing to the league’s sum­mit for the first time since April 23 when they lost to Barca.

They have been in ram­pant form since that de­feat, hit­ting 20 goals in five games through 10 dif­fer­ent scor­ers, demon­strat­ing the dev­as­tat­ing at­tack­ing power coach Zine­dine Zi­dane has at his dis­posal.

The French­man’s ro­ta­tion pol­icy was crit­i­cised early in the sea­son after four straight draws but has paid off with Real hit­ting their peak in the fi­nal run-in, hav­ing also reached the Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal in June against Ju­ven­tus.

“We’re all play­ing as we are thanks to the work of Zi­dane, thanks to his ro­ta­tions we can now win the dou­ble,” mid­fielder Isco told re­porters after a sen­sa­tional dis­play against Celta.

“We won another cru­cial game and now we have to make the fi­nal push. Malaga will be as tough as this game but we’re very mo­ti­vated. A point will be enough, but we’ll go out to win as we al­ways do.”

TO­DAY: Gi­jon v Betis, De­portivo v Las Pal­mas, Le­ganes v Alaves, Sevilla v Osasuna; TO­MOR­ROW: Atletico v Bil­bao, Celta Vigo v So­ciedad, Va­len­cia v Vil­lar­real, Barcelona vEibar, Malaga v Real Madrid. Reuters

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