Football

La Liga champions Real Madrid condemn Leganes to relegation

Newly crowned La Liga champions Real Madrid dropped points for the first time since the season’s restart, after a dramatic 2-2 draw on Sunday (July 19) that was not enough to save Leganes from relegation.

Leganes, who needed to beat Real and hope Celta Vigo failed to win against bottom club Espanyol, almost pulled off a miraculous escape but could not find a winner at the Butarque.

The draw means a rotated Real side surrendered the perfect record of 11 victories out of 11 since Spanish football came back from its coronavirus-enforced suspension, while Karim Benzema fell short of Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi in the battle for the Golden Boot.

Messi had earlier scored twice in a 5-0 win over Alaves, enough for him to claim a record seventh Pichichi Trophy and to give Barcelona momentum ahead of the return leg of their last 16 Champions League tie against Napoli next month.

The double took Messi’s league tally to 25 goals for the season and put him four clear of Benzema, who endured a quiet night against Leganes, with Sergio Ramos and Marco Asensio on target.

The odds were always against Leganes, but a miracle looked possible after a first-half leveller from Bryan Gil was followed up by another equaliser from Roger Assale, with 12 minutes left to find a winner. But chances were missed and a penalty appeal was turned down, meaning they join Real Mallorca and Espanyol in Segunda next season.

“The lads are broken,” said Leganes coach Javier Aguirre.

“We had it within our grasp.”

Real Sociedad and Granada, meanwhile, took the last two Europa League spots, with Getafe and Valencia missing out. Villarreal had already secured fifth place.

Granada thrashed Athletic Bilbao 4-0 and qualification caps an incredible season for the club, who were only promoted from Segunda last term.

“Our aim was to stay up, so to finish in the Europa League is a dream for us,” said Granada striker Roberto Soldado.

Real Sociedad moved into sixth place after Adnan Januzaj’s 87th-minute goal clinched a 1-1 draw away at Atletico Madrid.

Messi, 33,  finished as La Liga’s top scorer for a record seventh time, pulling clear of Telmo Zarra’s six while playing for  Bilbao in the forties and fifties.

“I’m never that bothered about the individual prizes and I would have preferred it to have come with a league title like before,” Messi said.

Setien said on Saturday he still believes Barcelona, at their best, can win the Champions League next month. And a sparkling attacking display certainly gave a glimpse of what is possible, even if Napoli in the last 16, and potentially Bayern Munich in the quarter-finals, will offer a completely different test.

There could be fitness concerns for Setien too ahead of the second leg against Napoli at the Nou Camp, with both sides locked at 1-1 from the first leg.

Clement Lenglet hobbled off with what looked like a groin problem, with Antoine Griezmann and Samuel Umtiti already out injured. – AFP

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