IIn the middle, someone fetched David Alaba a chair. It was late, it had been a long week, his legs were tired and everyone was making a lot of noise, but this seat wasn’t for sitting on. That was to celebrate, his thing now, so he took it and raised it over his head. Returning by popular demand, emulating what he had done after that absurd comeback against Paris Saint-Germain, cheers went through the dressing room and his team-mates began chanting, “This is how Madrid win!”
They had just gone and done it again, and this time it had won the title. “It’s only three points, that’s the reality,” Nacho Fernández said on the sidelines when it was all over, apart from the shouting, and there was a lot of that, but the reality was the league was theirs, they made their way secured.
Four days after their incredible revival against Chelsea, Real Madrid bounced back from a 2-0 3-2 win at the Sánchez Pizjuán at the Sánchez Pizjuán. With that, the only undefeated home record was over and the race was as good as over.
Carlo Ancelotti, a title winner in Italy, England, Germany and France, should now add Spain, a fifth different championship that comes through a second opportunity he never expected, a chance call about something else entirely that got him back at the Bernabéu brings. It could even be coming soon: Madrid don’t play next weekend – Saturday is the Copa del Rey final between Valencia and Betis – but they could be champions on Sunday night if Barcelona slip up this week. Fifteen points clear with six games remaining, what a bit of hope was lost to someone else late Sunday night. very Sunday evening late.
It was Easter Sunday in the place where the Passion of Christ is taken more seriously than anywhere else, the orange blossoms were once again turning Seville into the sweetest-smelling city in the world, and a giant banner had covered one end on Pizjuán. “They celebrated our death; they will fear our resurrection,” it read. They meant Seville, of course – and there are two jesus in their team, etc and so on – but it was made for Madrid to always be there somehow when the stone is rolled back.
Ivan Rakitic had scored the opening goal, his free-kick going through the wall where Éder Militão had been. Five minutes later, Érik Lamela made it 2-0 and the place roared. They weren’t even in half an hour and they were flying. Sevilla have only been beaten once since their last clash with Madrid in November and have not been at home at all. Sevilla were in control, playing the ball from deep and starting every move pretty much on their own baseline. At one point they worked their way out of the corner, were forced back in and worked their way back out as easily, accompanied by Oles from the stand.
“We had the game in a good place,” Rakitic said. This was going to be a story; Instead, it was the story of their season. Close but don’t. There but out of reach, a feeling that they just couldn’t take that step, on some level they still didn’t really believe it as well as it was going. “There was fear of victory,” admitted Julen Lopetegui.
There was also this other recurring theme, players collapsing all over the field. Antony Martial was eliminated by Eduardo Camavinga and deported where the Madrid midfielder could have been deported, a moment when they felt they had changed everything. Marcos Acuña was also there. Then Lamela.
“If we had kept them all, we would have won for sure,” said sporting director Monchi. “It’s such a shame.” He, too, saw his entire season in that one game, a missed opportunity. A “photo,” he called it.
In the end it wasn’t even that Good. She would have had a real portrait drawn. Sevilla haven’t lost in 11 league games since the start of the year, the transfer window – signings of Tecatito Corona and Martial, resisting Newcastle’s rapprochement with Diego Carlos – reflected a feeling they faced a unique opportunity. The problem was that they didn’t win much either; seven of them ended in a draw, the challenge resolved point by point. Even second place slipped. Could also be fourth now. They were knocked out of the cup by Betis and out of the Europa League by West Ham and missed a chance to win her trophy one her Stadion.
And now this stadium suffered its first defeat of the league season, which ended in whistles and finger pointing. Lamela was asked how the two halves could be so different. “That’s exactly what we’re asking ourselves,” he said, but the truth was that the move had come earlier, late in the first half. “You can’t give them an inch,” said Sevilla captain Rakitic. “We invited them to come back.”
Even at 2-0 – a goal Sevilla hadn’t missed at home in almost a decade – there was a sense that this was about to happen. Not just because this is Seville, but because that is Madrid. “Everyone has been waiting for us to slip, but this team doesn’t slip because they have guts, heart and character,” said Ancelotti. Some really good players and a coach who listens to them, reaches out to them and trusts them.
“This team is capable of special things,” Ancelotti added, and for all the talk of epic, mentality or luck, there’s also a physical prowess that’s all the more unexpected the less they rotate. Above all, there is football. Madrid left late but were great in the second half in Seville, the three goals were far from their only chances and it was about talent as much as temperament. Each time he made his way to the touchline, Vinicius in particular made for nice touches to open up his opponents. The changes worked, as is so often the case with Ancelotti, and the contrast with Seville was stark. Rodrygo, who came on as a half-time substitute, quickly scored first and Nacho scored second with 82 points.
That could already have been Madrid’s third, Thibaut Courtois sitting on the billboards at one end and having a friendly chat with Sevilla fans over an ob an earlier “goal” would be given, only for the VAR to rule that Vinicius managed. Instead, the third had to wait until Benzema finished another clean move in the 92nd minute while Julen Lopetegui waved frantically on the touchline. He then ran towards the men on the bench as they ran towards him. Ancelotti clenched his fists and screamed. Alaba held his head in his hands. And players and staff piled up. To her right, Lopetegui looked broken.
You knew what it meant. “We’re a little bit closer,” Nacho said, but it was a lot. This game, the front pages of both Madrid newspapers agreed on Sunday morning, was “half a league”, championship point or break point, what As a diary put it Barcelona and Sevilla were given hope and then taken away. Rafa Mir had missed a glorious chance to make it 2-1 only to take the lead but with eight minutes remaining Madrid were still losing. Had it stayed that way, they would have gone to Pamplona – not somewhere they enjoy themselves – knowing that another loss could have caught them by just three points by the end of the next weekend.
Instead, they could soon become champions. Madrid only need 10 points in six games to be sure of whatever the rest are doing now to react when it matters again. “Statement,” Toni Kroos called it, the entire team posed for a photo together – well, almost the entire team. Maybe Gareth Bale took it. One last big hurdle was taken as they please, the title as good as theirs, even if they still have to wait for the trophy, Alaba’s chair just plays the role a little longer.