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Five key players in Real Madrid’s title triumph


Madrid (AFP) – Real Madrid ended a five-year drought without a La Liga title by winning the Spanish top flight for a record 33rd time with a 2-0 win over Malaga on Sunday.

Here, AFP Sports looks at five of the players central to the success of Zinedine Zidane’s men over the course of the season.

Sergio Ramos

Madrid’s captain is a leader with both words and actions at both ends of the field.

Ramos has become a specialist in important late goals over recent seasons and arguably scored Madrid’s most important one of the season deep into stoppage time to rescue a draw against Barcelona at the Camp Nou back in December.

He repeated the trick a week later with a late winner against Deportivo la Coruna and after a poor start to the season has also upped his game at the other end of the pitch come the business end of the season as Real closed out the title with six straight wins.

Casemiro

The biggest single tactical shift since Zidane was put in charge and led a monumental turnaround in Madrid’s fortunes over the past 18 months has been the promotion of tough-tackling Brazilian midfielder Casemiro at the expense of more glamorous names like James Rodriguez.

Casemiro often walks a fine line with his discipline, but he protects a back four often exposed by Madrid’s attacking intent brilliantly, adds a physical edge to the midfield and frees up Toni Kroos and Luka Modric to use their more creative skills further up the pitch.

Toni Kroos

Real’s quiet assassin. Kroos has provided one of Real’s most potent weapons all season with his superb set-piece delivery.

The German has 17 assists to his name and routinely leads the way in terms of pass completion as he dominates the game from midfield.

Kroos also bore the burden when Real’s squad was stretched by injuries early in the season, playing more minutes than anyone else across all competitions.

Isco

So often the man to miss out on the big occasion during his Real career, Isco has made himself undroppable in recent months in the absence of Gareth Bale with a series of outstanding performances.

Most importantly, the Spanish international has added end product to his sublime array of skills on the ball.

Isco has had by a distance his most prolific season since joining from Malaga four years ago with 10 league goals in 30 appearances, most notably bagging a double including a last minute winner with the title on the line at Sporting Gijon last month.

And he created the all-important opener for Cristiano Ronaldo after just two minutes on his return to Malaga on Sunday.

Cristiano Ronaldo

Somehow still questioned throughout the early part of the campaign, Ronaldo again came up with all the answers down the stretch to lead his side over the finish line for just his second La Liga title in eight seasons in Spain.

The World Player of the Year proved his worth early in the campaign with a hat-trick at Atletico Madrid in Real’s stand out display of the first half of the season.

However, having been used far more sparingly by Zidane on league duty since March, Ronaldo has had far more in the tank at the end of the campaign than in recent years and that tactic has borne fruit.

Ronaldo scored five times against Sevilla, Celta Vigo and Malaga in the final week of the season to again end as Madrid’s top scorer for the season with 25 La Liga goals.

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