Ronaldo, Bale, Neymar & Messi Watch: Cristiano Sweats on Fitness, Barca Miss out

Samuel MarsdenFeatured ColumnistMay 18, 2014

Real Madrid's Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo andValladolid's Alvaro Rubio, right, challenge for the ball during a Spanish La Liga soccer match at the Jose Zorrilla stadium in Valladolid, Spain, Wednesday, May 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Israel L. Murillo)
Israel L. Murillo/Associated Press

Even though Gareth Bale scored with his right foot in Real Madrid’s win over Espanyol on Saturday, the final round of fixtures in Spain wasn’t a particularly memorable one for him, Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi or Neymar.

Carlo Ancelotti had confirmed on Friday that Ronaldo would be fine to start at the Bernabeu against Barcelona’s other team, per Marca. When the team sheets were handed in an hour before kick-off, that was indeed the case.

However, while warming up, the Portuguese international had an uncomfortable feeling in his muscle and was withdrawn from the Blancos side, which went on to win 3-1.

According to reports in Spanish publication Marca, he should be fine for the Champions League final against Atletico Madrid:

It appears he felt some discomfort related to the muscular injury he has just recovered from and chose not to take any risks during the final game of the campaign, in which Real Madrid were not playing for anything, in order to be fully fit to play in next Saturday's Champions League final against Atletico de Madrid.

Cristiano did not take a seat on the bench and left his place in the squad to Xabi Alonso, who had not been called up initially by Ancelotti.

On the plus side for Madrid, Bale and Karim Benzema did return to their forward line.

The Welsh forward opened the scoring with his weaker foot after a goalless first half against Espanyol to take his tally to 21 in all competitions ahead of the coming Saturday’s Decima showdown.

It reflects a good return for the Welshman in his first full season in Spain, during which he's also contributed 19 assists. One imagines he will only improve next season, when he should feel more at home with his surroundings.

Alvaro Morata came off the bench and hit a brace to complete the scoring for Madrid.

Two hours later in Catalunya, the league’s other two big-name stars, Messi and Neymar, were involved in a game that saw Atletico Madrid crowned kings of Spain.

Diego Simeone’s side entered Camp Nou knowing a point would be enough to secure their first title since 1996 and end a decade’s wait for a La Liga winner called something other than Barcelona or Real Madrid.

Diego Godin’s bullet of a header ensured they got that point, and not even Messi or Neymar could help Barca's side claim the three points needed to keep the trophy on the north east coast.

Fresh from the announcement of a new contract on Friday, Messi took his place in Gerardo Martino’s final Barcelona starting line-up. The 51-year-old revealed after the game he will leave his role as manager after one year in charge, per The Mirror.

But for the sixth time this season, La Pulga came up goalless against a rigid Atletico back line.

There was no shortage of commitment: He was constantly twisting, turning and trying to create chances; he just wasn’t getting anywhere.

Manu Fernandez/Associated Press

His chest teed up the opening goal for Alexis Sanchez—a screamer which sent the sell-out crowd into delirium—and he worked hard, regularly tracking back and showing a desire to regain possession when it was lost.

After Godin’s equaliser, Messi had the ball in the net only to see his celebration spoiled by the linesman's flag. Later on, he had a chance from a free-kick, but the Atletico wall stood strong.

Neymar’s involvement was less substantial, but equally frustrating. After several weeks sidelined, the Brazilian returned to take his place on the bench.

He was introduced for Pedro in the second half, with Martino banking on some Neymar magic to somehow break down the Rojiblancos defence. He had scored the only two goals against Atletico in the five previous meetings between the clubs this season.

BARCELONA, SPAIN - MAY 17:  Neymar of FC Barcelona is brought down by Joao Miranda of Atletico de Madridduring the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Club Atletico de Madrid at Camp Nou on May 17, 2014 in Barcelona, Spain. Atletico the Madrid won the
David Ramos/Getty Images

It wasn’t to be.

Though, once again, it wasn’t for lack of trying, as he regularly looked to take on the opposition and breathe life into Barcelona’s wilting title hopes.

All he could draw was a couple of hacks though, as Atletico Madrid’s significantly less expensive squad ended the Spanish season while proving that money is not everything in football after all.


*Bale goals/assists correct as per transfermarkt.