With Barcelona ready to hoist the La Liga title with anything but a Real Madrid win, Espanyol did everything they could on Saturday afternoon to keep Los Blancos from having one last-ditch effort at knocking Barca off their perch.
The home side did just that, forcing Madrid to a 1-1 draw on Saturday afternoon and officially giving Barcelona the La Liga title. ESPN FC had the tweet when the match went full time:
BARCELONA WIN LA LIGA! Espanyol's 1-1 draw with Real Madrid leaves Mourinho's men unable to make up the gap on the league leaders.— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) May 11, 2013
It was a physical match for both sides, as the home side struck first behind Christian Stuani in the 23rd minute. Espanyol didn't control the pace well or really attack like Madrid did for most of the match, but when this chance presented itself, Stuani took full advantage.
Just before Stuani got the scoring started, there was a scary moment for Madrid fans, as Raphael Varane had to be taken off the pitch with an injury. Xabi Alonso replaced him, and Ben Hayward reported that more tests were coming tomorrow:
Raphael Varane appears to have damaged his meniscus and Real Madrid will carry out more tests tomorrow to assess the extent of the problem.— Ben Hayward (@bghayward) May 11, 2013
Taking a 1-0 lead into the half, Espanyol was in control of a game it largely didn't deserve to be in. Real Madrid had possession of the ball for over 72 percent of the game at full time (via ESPN).
Jose Mourinho's troops came out stronger in the second half, though, and the Madrid manager decided to put Cristiano Ronaldo on the pitch for the first time in the 57th minute, when he replaced Kaka for the away side.
It took less than a minute for the switch to pay off.
Gonzalo Higuain and the rest of Los Blancos clearly benefited from having their fearless leader on the field, and he found the net in the 58th minute to equalize the score and give Madrid at least a chance to stave off Barca's impending title (h/t 101GreatGoals):
GOAL!!!!!! 1-1, header: Gonzalo Higuain (Real Madrid) v Espanyol bit.ly/12luBZQ— 101 Great Goals (@101greatgoals) May 11, 2013
With the score knotted, Madrid mounted some late charges, largely behind the skill of Luka Modric, who was stellar for the away side in this match. However, it wasn't enough for Madrid to crawl all the way back, and Barca will now celebrate while Madrid gets ready for the Copa Del Rey semifinal next week.
Both teams were aggressive in this one, as the final stat tally had a combined 45 tackles and 30 fouls between the two clubs. Yellow cards were also flying, and Sergio Garcia was thrown off after his second yellow of the day in the 90th minute.
Who was the man of the match?
It didn't hurt the home side, though, who completed a fifth-straight home game without a win (0-1-4, per Yahoo! Sports).
Ronaldo and the rest of Los Blancos will have to have a short memory from this disappointing road split, as Atletico Madrid awaits them in the Copa Del Rey final. Mourinho chose to rest some of his stars, and it ended up costing Madrid in the first half—the away side came out flat and couldn't climb the hill after halftime.
Take a look at the sections below for some grades and what's next for both of these clubs.
Complete Grades for Both Teams
|Raul Baena (90')||C|
|Angel Di Maria||B+|
|Xabi Alonso (19')||B+|
|Karim Benzema (47')||B|
Cristiano Ronaldo (57')
Christian Stuani, Espanyol: A-
Stuani was all over the pitch on Saturday evening, putting together the most impressive statistical performance of any of his Espanyol teammates.
He had the most shots of any home-sider (3), added five tackles and wasn't afraid to play physical when the job required it. Stuani almost helped Espanyol pull off the upset with some late pushes, but he has to be happy with a solid performance in front of a home crowd and a tough opponent.
Xabi Alonso, Real Madrid: B+
Alonso entered for the injured Varane in the first part of the match, and he chased the Espanyol attackers around quite well in a game Mourinho likely wasn't going to use him unless things were close in the second half.
As it is, Alonso performed admirably, keeping Espanyol from mounting any more significant runs.
Mubarak Wakaso, Espanyol: B
Wakaso came off in the 90th minute, but he was another player all over the pitch on Saturday, clearly not caring that his side wasn't in the league title conversation.
He had 44 touches and completed 69 percent of his passes on Saturday and deserved the late break he got as Espanyol tried to hold of Los Blancos.
Cristiano Ronaldo: A-
Our expectations are so high for Ronaldo that his mere presence is now leading to goals.
He came on the pitch, didn't touch the ball and the team found a way to score. Coincidence? Maybe, but Los Blancos play well when Ronaldo is out there and a threat to the other 11 players on the opposite side.
He really didn't do much at all in the match, but being on the pitch is sometimes enough for Madrid these days when it comes to their star. It was disappointing to not see him mount a late charge to thwart Barca, but the Copa Del Rey final is likely in many fans' minds after this one and won't hurt his grade in this one, either.
What's Next for Both Sides?
Madrid get a five-day layoff before their next match, the Copa Del Rey final against Atletico Madrid. With Jose Mourinho choosing to rest some of his stars early in this match and the final a few days away, Madrid shouldn't be plagued by fatigue in pursuit of that trophy.
Two more La Liga matches against Real Sociedad and Osasuna also loom for Los Blancos.
Espanyol have just three matches to play this season and will look to take some of their first-half effort into upcoming La Liga showdowns with Deportivo La Coruña, Barcelona and Celta Vigo before the season ends.
The home side will also get Barca at home when Lionel Messi and company come to town, but we aren't sure if the away side will still be chasing the league title by that time, or not.
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