Real Madrid wins first La Liga title in five years and Barcelona falls short on season's final day

Karim Benzema, Sergio Ramos and Luka Modric
Benzema scored the clinching goal. (Reuters)

Going into the final day of La Liga, Barcelona still had a hypothetical chance of winning a third straight Spanish league title. It was more than hypothetical, in fact. It was credible. But it had to beat Eibar at home and Real Madrid had to tie or lose at Malaga.

It was a long shot, but the odds were hardly prohibitive.

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Real took an early lead and never relinquished it on its way to a 2-0 win, however, and Barca was almost upset by puny Eibar – which finished 10th in spite of its stature, and a stadium that seats just 7,000 – before pulling a 4-2 victory out of the fire. Not that it mattered, since Zinedine Zidane’s side did what it needed to do.

It was Real Madrid’s 33rd league title in its history – a Spanish record, and nine more than second-place Barcelona – and its first since the 2011-12 season. That ends a run in which Real had won the Champions League twice without winning its domestic league.

In just the second minute, Cristiano Ronaldo was dispatched by Isco’s terrific through ball and rounded Carlos Kameni to roll it into the net.

At the other end, Keylor Navas had to make several saves on Sandro, the former Barca prospect. And Kameni then denied Ronaldo from close range to keep things close.

Some 10 minutes after halftime, Real got its second. And it was controversial. A corner was redirected at goal by Sergio Ramos. Kameni parried it and bounced it off the chest of Raphael Varane, who may or may not have been offside. The ball then fell to Karim Benzema, who scored coolly to put the final score on the board.

If the game in Malaga was fairly uneventful and lacked real tension, the one further up the Mediterranean coast in Barcelona was dramatic. Just seven minutes in, Takashi Inui’s splendid half-volley at the far post put the visitors ahead.

Luis Suarez just refused to put Barca on even terms, twice missing one-on-one chances with Yoel.

Meanwhile, Suarez had a goal disallowed because Jordi Alba was plainly offside when Andres Iniesta found him with the ball, before the left back set up the Uruguayan.

It was largely one-way traffic towards Eibar’s goal. And Lionel Messi, incredibly, missed a point-blank finish after Suarez fed him on a silver platter.

And on the hour Inui shocked the hosts with another half-volley, off the underside of the bar, meaning he tripled his La Liga scoring tally for the season in a single game.

That’s when Barcelona finally roused from its slumber and began its comeback.

David Junca got Luis Enrique’s men started with an own goal.

Messi then had a penalty saved by Yoel, who got a strong arm onto the Argentine’s rocket.

But Suarez finally managed to work the ball into the net with a dink on the doorstep.

And then Messi got another chance from the penalty spot, as Eibar was reduced to 10 men. This time around, he converted it for the winner.

Messi popped in a fourth in injury time.

But it was all inconsequential in the end, given the result in Malaga. Real Madrid conserved its three-point lead going into the final game, the gap it had finally opened with a midweek win over Celta Vigo in the match it had held in hand for months to break the deadlock at the top.

Real, with the third-highest points total in its history, was the deserving champion for its consistency, losing a league-low three games and tying just six times. What did Barca in, in the end, was either the six-game stretch from Nov. 19 through Jan. 8 when it had to settle for four draws, or indeed the five-game run at the very start of the season when it won just twice.

Real never suffered such a stretch. Its only blip came from the fifth through the seventh match days when it tied three in a row.

The margins at the top of La Liga, between the juggernauts in the eternal duopoly, are ever so slim. A few bad weeks anywhere along the way in the nine-month slog can prove fatal. Barcelona had a relatively tumultuous year, with the announcement that Luis Enrique would leave his post at the end of the season. Real Madrid, for once, was the more stable club, as Zidane was allowed to work in something resembling peace and quiet. The results show, with the club from the capital also in the June 3 final of the Champions League, positioned for a third continental title in four years.

After a Barca title in 2012-13, a shocking Atletico Madrid championship, and two more Barca wins, this season finally proved to be Real’s time again. At length, the club’s dynastic European run has also produced a league title.

Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.