It was perhaps his greatest challenge. When Jose Mourinho arrived in Spain in the summer of 2010, the brief was to beat Barcelona, restore Real Madrid to the top in Spain and, somehow, overcome a side described by many as the greatest footballing force in history. The bar had been set incredibly high.
But at just the second time of asking, Mourinho and Madrid have done it. Having fallen short despite a tremendous total of 92 points in 2010-11, the capital club has gone one better in the current campaign. Cibeles awaits; greatness and glory beckon.
San Mames looked a difficult destination: Madrid has succumbed at La Catedral on numerous occasions in the past. But it never looked likely tonight. Cristiano Ronaldo missed an early penalty and Sami Khedira got away with a handball at the other end, but then Gonzalo Higuain lashed home and Mesut Ozil made it two following a precious pass from Cristiano. The game was already long over when Ronaldo added a third in the second half to complete a 3-0 victory.
The title had really been won in Barcelona, of course. Having seen its lead cut to just four points ahead of the recent Clasico, Madrid knew defeat at Camp Nou could severely harm its chances of claiming La Liga for the first time since 2008. But it produced when it mattered most to leave Catalan dreams in tatters and move seven clear with just four fixtures remaining, as Ronaldo hit the winner 10 days ago in Catalunya.
A subsequent success at home to Sevilla ensued and a Wednesday win would see Madrid crowned champions, even though a Lionel Messi-inspired Barca thrashed Malaga 4-1 earlier on.
Madrid's top Primera Division scorers in 2011-12
|Ronaldo - 44 goals ||Higuain - 22 goals ||Benzema - 20 goals |
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So having won the Copa del Rey in his first season in charge, Mourinho has led Madrid to La Liga in 2011-12. Slowly, but surely, Madrid has worn Barca down and despite the disappointment of losing to Bayern Munich in the Champions League semifinals last week, the Portuguese coach claimed winning the title would represent a great campaign for his spectacular side. Madrid fans would surely agree.
Madrid may have lost 3-1 at home to Barca in December and suffered disappointing draws against Villarreal, Valencia and Malaga recently, but over the course of the campaign it has been cooler, calmer, and more consistent than the Catalans. The table does not lie: Madrid is a worthy winner.
Barca, to its credit, made things interesting as it closed a 10-point deficit to just four ahead of the Clasico, but ultimately, Madrid's strength in depth proved priceless. And although it too was reliant on the talents of its finest footballer, Mourinho's men seemed to depend less on Cristiano than Barca on Messi.
Ronaldo, of course, was the talisman, scoring numerous important goals: the winner at Barca was fundamental, while his brilliant backheel in a 1-0 success at Rayo was also key, as was his stunning hat trick at Atletico. But there have been heroes all over the pitch for Madrid in 2011-12, from Iker Casillas in goal, through to Sergio Ramos and Pepe in defence, Xabi Alonso and Sami Khedira in midfield, and 20-goal forwards Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuain up front.
|How La Liga looks with two games to play |
Ronaldo, Benzema and Higuain have racked up well over 100 strikes in all competitions, with 86 of those coming in La Liga so far. And in total, Madrid has now scored 115 goals in the Primera Division this term, smashing the previous mark held by John Toshack's team of 1989-90. Barcelona, by the way, has also surpassed that total - but it won't catch Mourinho's Madrid.
And now it can't catch them in La Liga, either.
Barca had needed a last-gasp leveller from Messi to earn a point at San Mames earlier on in La Liga, but Madrid made light work of its fixture on Wednesday. Not even Ronaldo's nervy penalty allowed it to sway - this one never looked in doubt.
So Mourinho claims his seventh league title in 10 years - and in four different countries. The Portuguese has done it again. He can now make the unique claim of having captured the title in the continent's top three leagues - England, Italy and Spain. And having confirmed he will stay at the Bernabeu for at least one more season, things suddenly look brighter at Real Madrid than they have for quite some time. For the moment, they are worthy winners and Barca is beaten. Mission accomplished in formidable fashion. Roll on 2012-13.
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