Real Madrid were furious. ZInedine Zidane’s side were eager to play away to Celta Vigo in February despite damage to the Galicians’ Balaidos stadium. However, the game was postponed and Cristiano Ronaldo had a night off on his birthday instead.
The fixture had seemed ideal for Madrid at the time. Celta were in the middle of their two Copa del Rey semi-final matches against Alaves and their coach Eduardo Berizzo had admitted he would play with reserves in the Liga clash.
Madrid put pressure on Celta to make repairs to their stadium or find an alternative venue, but there were no viable options and the game was rescheduled for the final week of the season because both teams were in action in Europe – Real in the Champions League and their rivals in the Europa League.
And even though the Galicians had lost their last five in La Liga as they focused on Europe, they were clearly up for this one, angered by Madrid’s attitude back in February when they were accused of sabotaging Real’s title tilt.
In the end, however, it may just have worked out well for Madrid because Los Blancos needed four points from their trips to Celta and Malaga (on Sunday) to end the season as league champions for the first time since 2011-12. They now need just one.
Ronaldo rifled home with his left foot from outside the area after 10 minutes to give Madrid the lead and after Celta dominated the closing stages of the first half and the early exchanges in the second period too, Isco led a quick breakaway before expertly finding the Portuguese to make it 2-0.
Iago Aspas was later dismissed after receiving a second yellow card for diving, although he may have been shoved by Sergio Ramos, and John Guidetti got the home side back in it with a deflected effort.
However, a dominant Madrid went back in front through Karim Benzema and, after Ronaldo missed an extraordinary chance from close range, Toni Kroos made it 4-1 later on to leave Los Blancos needing only to draw at Malaga to claim the title.
Ronaldo was substituted to avoid the risk of a booking and a subsequent suspension in the final fixture at Malaga on Sunday and the Portuguese appeared frustrated to have missed the chance to claim his hat-trick.
However, it was he who set Real on their way with those two opening strikes and he now has 20 goals against Celta as a Madrid player, while his first also saw him become European footballer’s all-time top league scorer as he surpassed former Tottenham and England great Jimmy Greaves to reach 367 – and then 368 – goals.
It was a belated birthday celebration for Ronaldo as he helped to gift the title to Madrid. But for Real, the Champagne will be on hold until Sunday because defeat in Malaga will let Barcelona back in it. And after one title in eight years, that would be a huge blow.
Anything other than a Madrid win in La Liga now seems unlikely, however, and it should be confirmed at La Rosaleda at the weekend. So, Cristiano got to celebrate his birthday and, in a few days, he should be celebrating the title as well.