Real Madrid await La Liga coronation as Jose Mourinho has his day
Victory for Real at Bilbao tomorrow can put end to four years of dominance by rivals Barcelona
Success-starved Real Madrid fans will finally be able to stage the traditional title celebrations at the Cibeles fountain in the centre of the Spanish capital tomorrow night if Jose Mourinho's side win at Athletic Bilbao.
After four years living in the shadow of bitter rivals Barcelona, when only a King's Cup was added to the trophy cabinet, many of them will also be celebrating the imminent departure of the Barcelona coach, Pep Guardiola, who announced on Friday he was stepping down at the end of the season.
Guardiola has been a hugely irritating thorn in Real's side since taking over in 2008, leading Barça to 13 trophies including two Champions Leagues and three successive La Liga titles. However, the arrival of the combative Mourinho from Internazionale in 2010 is finally starting to bear fruit. His free-scoring Real side, eliminated on penalties by Bayern Munich in the Champions League semi-finals last week, have 91 points with three games remaining.
Barça, who host Malaga earlier tomorrow – kicking off two hours before Real – are seven adrift and resigned to the fact that their three-year stranglehold on the La Liga title is drawing to an end.
"We know that Madrid are the champions," Guardiola, who will be replaced by his close friend and long-term assistant Tito Vilanova next season, said after watching his side hammer Rayo Vallecano 7-0 on Sunday.
"This game was a demonstration of what this team has achieved," added the 41-year-old, who is taking time away from football to recharge his batteries. "The club is healthy, there is a young squad, Tito knows the players perfectly and I am convinced Barça will continue competing at the highest level in every competition."
The normally outspoken Mourinho has shunned the media in recent weeks, sending out his assistant Aitor Karanka before and after La Liga matches.
Karanka said after Real's 3-0 home win over Seville on Sunday that winning the title at the San Mames against Europa League finalists Bilbao would be a special experience.
"But nobody is thinking about anything other than winning the three points that we need wherever and whenever that might be," he added. "It's clear that winning a championship like the Spanish league, with all the effort it costs and everything that goes with it, is important. The sooner the better."
The fight for the third automatic Champions League berth and fourth – which carries a qualification spot for Europe's elite club competition – has intensified in recent weeks, with Valencia struggling to hold off ambitious, Qatar-owned Malaga.
The Andalusian club earned a 1-0 home win over Valencia on Sunday to draw level on 55 points but remain fourth because of a poorer head-to-head record.
After Malaga's game at the Nou Camp, Valencia tomorrow host eighth-placed Osasuna, who are still in with a chance of a berth in the Europa League next season along with Levante, Bilbao and their opponents in next month's final, Atletico Madrid.
With Racing Santander already relegated, Sporting Gijon and Real Zaragoza continue their unlikely campaigns for survival at home to Villarreal and Levante respectively.
Gijon, in 19th, could close to within a point of Villarreal with a win on Saturday, but will be joined on 37 by Zaragoza if they manage to beat fifth-placed Levante on Sunday. Rayo and Granada are also in serious peril in 15th and 16th, and play Real Mallorca and Espanyol respectively.
In France, the Paris St-Germain coach, Carlo Ancelotti, is refusing to concede the Ligue 1 title despite Sunday's 2-1 defeat at third-placed Lille. That left the Italian's Qatar-backed side five points adrift of a modest-spending Montpellier ahead of their game against Evian tonight, with PSG due to host in-form St Etienne tomorrow.
"There are still four games to play, it's not finished," Ancelotti said. "We have not lost the title yet, we have to believe everything is possible. It will be more difficult but it's not over."
Sunday's victory means the defending champions Lille are suddenly back in contention for an automatic Champions League spot a further two points behind. But while Ancelotti has yet to give up on the title race, his players appear to believe the gap at the top is insurmountable.
"We now need more than a miracle," said the midfielder Momo Sissoko.
"We can forget the title," added the goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu, one of PSG's high-profile signings. "If Montpellier let it slip away, they're stupid."
Sirigu's frank assessment was dismissed by the Montpellier coach René Girard, who preferred to turn his attention to the side's next fixture. "I'm not listening to that kind of comment," Girard said . "You can only celebrate what you have won."
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