Five key players who helped Real Madrid clinch the 2019-20 LaLiga title
As acknowledged by everyone, coach Zinedine Zidane’s return to the club had a huge impact on the fortunes of Real, who were in a slump after the departure of Zidane and key player Cristiano Ronaldo at the end of the 2017-18 season.Updated: Jul 17, 2020 16:20 IST
Real Madrid’s 2-1 triumph over Villareal on Friday sealed a 34th La Liga title for Spain and Europe’s most successful club. The fact that the title was sealed with a game in hand and was delivered by the players after ten straight victories, ever since the league restarted behind closed doors due to the coronavirus pandemic is a testament to the hunger for success that these players had.
As acknowledged by everyone, coach Zinedine Zidane’s return to the club had a huge impact on the fortunes of Real, who were in a slump after the departure of Zidane and key player Cristiano Ronaldo at the end of the 2017-18 season.
In his first term as coach of Real, Zidane won three back to back UEFA Champions League titles and a league. Most of those triumphs came at the back of stupendous performances from Ronaldo. The fact that Madrid edged out bitter rivals FC Barcelona this year without the services of a world class goal scorer like Ronaldo makes this victory sweeter.
Here are five players who played a key role in Madrid’ league win:
Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos has led his side with typical character and energy all through the season, and has now won his fifth LaLiga Santander trophy (and lifted his second as captain). Ramos has been part of the division’s tightest back four all season, with he and long term partner Raphael Varane complementing each other perfectly at the centre of the defence. The Andalusian centre-back has also contributed hugely at the other end of the pitch, where his ability to cooly convert from the penalty spot during the last few weeks of the season was crucial. A career best 10 goals in 2019-20 have also helped him become LaLiga’s top scoring defender ever - with his current total at 71 across his years at Madrid and first club Sevilla FC.
Karim Benzema has been Madrid’s outstanding attacker over the season, and it is not even close. The former France international’s 21 LaLiga goals are more than his fellow attackers Eden Hazard, Gareth Bale, Luka Jovic, Marco Asensio, James Rodríguez, Lucas Vazquez, Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo Goes have all managed between them. The Frenchman has produced all kinds of goals - towering headers, close range finishes, accurate volleys, a long range screamer, calmly taken one-on-ones against the keeper and a couple of penalties. Many have been crucial strikes too - such as the winners in tight games against other top sides Atletico Madrid and Sevilla FC. Benzema’s eight assists have also been crucial - from the number nine with the soul of a number ten. Meanwhile his physical indestructibility means that he has played more minutes in LaLiga this season than any Madrid player.
Thibaut Courtois recovered from an uncertain start to the 2019-20 season to show outstanding reflexes and consistency through the rest of the campaign, bringing confidence and calm which flowed throughout the team. With just 20 goals conceded in their 34 games played -there’s still one more LaLiga game-, Courtois has become the first Madrid keeper to win the ‘Zamora’ trophy for LaLiga’s best goalkeeper award since Iker Casillas back in 2007-08. Five consecutive clean sheets during the post-COVID 19 lockdown was especially crucial to Madrid overhauling FC Barcelona over the final weeks. The Belgium international also made big saves in important moments through the season - such as the goalless draw at his former club Atletico Madrid in September, and the 2-0 El Clásico victory over Barça in February. He even made a contribution in the opposition area – winning a header at a corner in the Valencia CF penalty in December, leading directly to Benzema’s crucial equalising goal.
Also key to Madrid’s rock solid core this season has been holding midfielder Casemiro - whose physicality and reading of the game have helped protect his defence so well. The Brazilian’s stats show what he has excelled in - among all LaLiga players in 2019-20 he sits second in tackles per game, third in interceptions and third in fouls committed, while no midfielder has made more clearances all season. Meanwhile his four LaLiga goals have all been crucial to vital victories, up to the close range finish against RCD Espanyol recently to keep Madrid on track for the title. Opposition fans and coaches may have been frustrated by his ability to show up in the right place at the right time to thwart their attacks, but that just made the 28 year old even more popular with his own team.
2019-20 also saw young midfielder Fede Valverde become a vital senior player in the Madrid set-up. Valverde’s energy and athleticism helped him break into the team, where his range of passing and ability on the ball also soon become clear. A man of the match performance in a 4-2 victory over Granada CF in October made Blancos fans realise a star was emerging - with local pundits comparing his ‘box to box’ style to international figures Paul Pogba and Steven Gerrard. Already capped 20 times at senior level by Uruguay, his own confidence levels also rose through the campaign, as goals came in LaLiga games against SD Eibar and Real Sociedad. Valverde’s versatility has also been very useful to Zidane, especially as he moved between different roles in central, right and attacking midfield during the accelerated end of season programme.