MADRID (AP) – Real Madrid clinched its first Spanish league title in three years on Thursday after extending its perfect run following the pandemic break.
Madrid secured its record 34th league title with a 2-1 win over Villarreal, opening a seven-point gap to second-place Barcelona with one round to go. Barcelona lost to 10-man Osasuna at the Camp Nou Stadium.
Karim Benzema scored twice to give Madrid its 10th consecutive league victory. It is the only team with a perfect record after the coronavirus-enforced break, having trailed Barcelona by two points before the league was halted.
It was Madrid’s first league title since Cristiano Ronaldo left to join Juventus two seasons ago, and the first since coach Zinedine Zidane returned from a short break.
“This is one of the best days in my life professionally,” Zidane said. “It’s another league title, after the confinement and everything else that happened. I wish we could celebrate with the fans, but I’m sure they are very happy at home seeing their team win the league again.”
The title celebrations were subdued as the triumph came with Madrid playing at its training center because the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium remains undergoing renovation work.
Fans have not been allowed into games since the pandemic, and Madrid had warned supporters not to gather at the team’s traditional celebration spots in the Spanish capital. Most of the early celebrations came from fans honking their car horns across the city’s streets.
Captain Sergio Ramos lifted the trophy at the empty Alfredo Di Stéfano Stadium as confetti went into the air behind him and his teammates. Players later threw Zidane into the air a few times, then they all posed for photos in front of one of the goals.
“It has been a strange season after everything that has happened,” said Ramos, who won his fifth Spanish league title. “After the confinement we knew that we had to win every match to clinch the title. There was no margin for error.”
Madrid last lifted the league trophy in 2017, a year before Ronaldo departed. Zidane quit at the end of the 2017-18 season after leading the club to a third straight Champions League title. He was asked to return less than a year later as the team endured a streak of poor results in the Spanish league and the Champions League.
Barcelona had won the last two league titles but stuttered after the break, drawing three times and losing once after the league resumed.
Benzema – one of Madrid’s key players this season – opened the scoring with a shot from inside the area in the 29th minute and added to the lead by converting a penalty in the 77th, reaching 21 league goals and moving within two of scoring leader Lionel Messi, who netted for Barcelona against Osasuna.
Benzema’s goal from the penalty spot came after Ramos’ initial attempt was called back after he just rolled the ball sideways to Benzema to score. The French striker had entered the area too soon and the penalty had to be taken again.
Luka Modric set up Benzema’s first goal after a breakaway that started near midfield.
Fifth-place Villarreal pulled one back with a header by Vicente Iborra in the 83rd. It was denied an equalizer by a great save by Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois in stoppage time.
Madrid’s Marco Asensio had a goal disallowed moments later.
Barcelona needed to win its match and hope Madrid slipped up. Instead it lost 2-1 at home against midtable Osasuna.
Messi scored his league-leading 23rd goal from a free kick in the second half to cancel out José Arnaíz’s opener.
Osasuna lost substitute Enric Gallego to a direct red card for bloodying the mouth of Barcelona defender Clement Lenglet with an elbow to the face in the 77th.
But Osasuna’s Roberto Torres scored in stoppage time with Barcelona pushing forward searching for a late goal.
It was Barcelona’s first home loss in the league since a 4-3 result against Real Betis in Nov. 2018.
Messi said it was “not the way” Barcelona wanted to end the season.
“Madrid did its part by winning all its matches, which is impressive, but we also helped them to win this league,” Messi said. “We have to be critical of how we have played, starting with the players, and for the rest of the club.”