Madrid's failure vs. Espanyol hands Barca title
Visit the official Real Madrid website today (Sunday, May 12) and it'll take longer than you'd expect to find details and reaction to Los Blancos' 1-1 draw at Espanyol on Saturday night.
That's because Madrid's basketball team are set to face Olympiacos in London for the European Cup, what would be the club's ninth in the sport.
It all seems a bit familiar. The team has scooped up more European Cups than any other, with eight. The final is in London. While it's great news for the club's basketball fans, in a strange way it's almost rubbing salt into the wounds that Jose Mourinho and his men are not Wembley-bound for the final of the Champions League. What if, and all that.
It shows how crucial the basketball final is to the club. Interest is high in the team, albeit nowhere near the level of the football team. It also shows how the football team's season has fizzled out dramatically this season. As of Sunday morning, you had to get through five stories before finding details of the draw in Catalonia.
Mourinho and Madrid pretty much treated it that way, too, in fielding a weakened side just a week before the Copa del Rey final against Atletico next Friday. Cristiano Ronaldo, Xabi Alonso and Karim Benzema were amongst the absentees.
The match itself handed Barcelona the title on a plate, if it wasn't already on one. The title chase was over long ago but Madrid could have at least prolonged it that little further had they defeated an Espanyol side who had little to play for safe in midtable. They failed to do so, meaning that Barca were crowned champions without kicking a ball.
In resting key men for next week's Copa del Rey final, Mourinho clearly didn't want to risk any injuries before their last chance of silverware this season -- and possibly Jose's last chance of silverware before leaving the club for pastures new.
It was mission failed in that respect, too, with Raphael Varane picking up a knee injury that is likely to keep him out for the remainder of the season. Not only a blow to Madrid but a blow to the young Frenchman, who's had a superb breakthrough season with Los Blancos and would have loved to have capped it off with a trophy.
Madrid went into the game at Cornella-El Prat looking for their seventh straight league win and a fourth straight victory at a ground they've enjoyed visiting in previous campaigns.
It didn't start well. Varane's injury was a blow and then Christian Stuani inflicted more pain when he gave Espanyol the lead after 23 minutes. It could have been worse for a much-changed Blancos side had Diego Lopez not saved a one-on-one against Stuani just before the half-hour mark.
The visitors improved in the latter stages of the first half and Alvaro Morata saw claims for a penalty waved away by the referee. The momentum continued into the second half and when Benzema and Ronaldo were introduced Madrid had more power, pace and drive.
Gonzalo Higuain was the man to get Madrid's equaliser and it was put on a plate by the ever-improving Luka Modric, who enjoyed another encouraging display from the start. The Croatian curled in a free kick just before the hour mark and Higuain was there to pounce.
Chances were there for both sides to win it in the second half but neither could. Although much-changed in personnel, the result and the performance almost summed up Madrid's struggles this season in failing to pick up three points from an away match they really should have grabbed if they'd wanted to retain their title.