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Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Decima or disaster? Madrid must rest Ronaldo as title hopes evaporate

Decima or disaster? Madrid must rest Ronaldo as title hopes evaporate

La Liga looks lost now for Real Madrid. Carlo Ancelotti's men would be joint-top of the table if they had beaten Valencia and Valladolid over the last four days, but back-to-back draws have left them lagging behind - and it's time to look towards the Champions League instead.

Madrid were without Gareth Bale at Zorrilla and lost Cristiano Ronaldo to injury with muscle fatigue after eight minutes. Despite going ahead through Sergio Ramos' free kick, a late leveller from Humberto Osorio denied the Blancos victory and has seemingly put paid to their hopes of claiming the title, too. Indeed, a win for Atletico Madrid at home to Malaga on Sunday will mean Madrid can't be champions this term.

With an inferior record in their head-to-head match-ups with both Barcelona and Atleti, Real needed to finish top outright anyway, but can now win no more than 90 points. Atleti, meanwhile, have 88 and Barca 85. The fat lady is warming up her vocal chords for the Santiago Bernabeu side.

Madrid's hopes of a treble are seemingly gone, but the Copa del Rey and the Champions League would represent an impressive return for the club in Ancelotti's first season in Spain. The cup has already been won, while Madrid are favourites to beat city rivals Atleti in the sides' showpiece in Lisbon later this month.

Spanish La Liga

1Atlético de Madrid3628445188
3Real Madrid3626646684
4Athletic Club3620882768
6Real Sociedad36161010858
8Valencia CF36121014-146
9Celta de Vigo3613716-646
11Rayo Vallecano3613419-2943
15Granada CF3611520-2338
17Real Valladolid3671514-2036
20Real Betis365724-4222

Madrid must focus on that now, rest Ronaldo and ensure they are in tip-top condition for their Decima date. In the meantime, Atletico will be straining every sinew to try to claim La Liga and will likely need at least a point at Camp Nou on the final day of the season. If, as expected, Diego Simeone's side beat Malaga on Sunday, Madrid will be out of the race anyway and can concentrate solely on Lisbon, handing much-needed rest and recuperation time to the players who will feature in the Champions League final.

Ronaldo had been struggling for fitness prior to Wednesday's game and, although the club confirmed toGoal that he had been taken off with muscle fatigue and no serious injury, they said something similar when he was injured against Borussia Dortmund in early April - he then aggravated the problem ahead of the secong leg in Germany and ended up missing several weeks. A repeat prior to the Champions League final would be disastrous.

"We'll see in the coming days, but I don't think Cristiano has a big problem," Ancelotti said after the game on Wednesday. "He wasn't comfortable, so I substituted him."

But now there's no need to risk him at all. Ancelotti et al will want to win at Celta on Sunday to keep their slim hopes of winning the Primera Division alive, but resting Ronaldo seems the sensible thing to do ahead of what is the club's biggest match in 12 years (their last Champions League crown came in 2002).

Already without Xabi Alonso for the derby date in Lisbon, Ancelotti needs Ronaldo and Bale firing on all cylinders to overcome Simeone's side. So perhaps the draw on Wednesday is a blessing in disguise and will ultimately help the club to end their perennial pursuit of La Decima by beating Atleti on May 24. Risk Ronaldo, however, and they could end up losing the Champions League as well as La Liga - and that's a price not worth paying in what could yet be a successful season for the club


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