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How Real Madrid Won The La Liga 2023-24 Without Their Starting CBs and Thibaut Courtois

More than two hours had elapsed since the final whistle blew on Real Madrid’s 3-0 triumph over Cadiz on Saturday (4th May). Despite this, some of their players remained inside the Santiago Bernabéu, glued to the TV screens. Official confirmation of their championship victory arrived later, although they had been aware of their impending triumph for quite some time.

ATOFUTW2IVILNKYXBSYNAIWU2U How Real Madrid Won The La Liga 2023-24 Without Their Starting CBs and Thibaut Courtois
Soccer Football – LaLiga – Real Madrid v Cadiz – Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid, Spain – May 4, 2024 Real Madrid players celebrate with fans after the match REUTERS/Juan Medina

The decisive moment came with Girona’s 4-2 win over Barcelona, over 681 kilometers to the northeast, which was confirmed at 8:30 pm on the 34th Saturday of the season. Instead of embarking on a celebratory parade down the Castellana to Cibeles, the team refrained, although fans congregated by the goddess of fertility. With another match against Bayern Munich scheduled for Wednesday night and the title already secured, there were further tasks at hand.

  1. When is Real Madrid’s next game in La Liga?

    Real Madrid face Granada away from home on 11th May, 2024 at 10 pm (IST).

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K2UUGI5EBNO6DO2MS3YU56NT5I How Real Madrid Won The La Liga 2023-24 Without Their Starting CBs and Thibaut Courtois
Soccer Football – LaLiga – Girona v FC Barcelona – Estadi Montilivi, Girona, Spain – May 4, 2024 Girona’s Portu celebrates scoring their second goal REUTERS/Albert Gea

For quite some time, the outcome had been evident. A fortnight prior, Jude Bellingham’s 94th-minute goal secured victory in the clásico, effectively eliminating their last remaining contenders, if Barcelona could truly be called that. Two months earlier, they had convincingly defeated the closest thing they had to genuine challengers, effectively ending Girona’s hopes as well. While they were the most thrilling and surprising team, they wouldn’t claim the championship. As for Atlético Madrid, the only team to defeat Real Madrid all season, they had dropped out of contention even earlier, faltering by Christmas. This wasn’t so much a competitive race as it was a predictable procession.

Read More: How Real Madrid’s Vinicius Jr. Has Become Mr. Champions League After CR7?

Real Madrid: A Season of Superiority and Adaptability

The night Girona suffered a 4-0 defeat against Madrid in February, there seemed to be a hint of relief in the words of their manager, Michel Sánchez, as if he had been liberated from a facade, the pressure for the season’s great revelation to replicate a Leicester-like feat. “When you face someone this formidable, you come face to face with your own reality, and this isn’t our league,” he remarked. Instead, it belonged to Madrid, and almost from the outset.

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7B33QH3P3NLWVMDPLS5UYO7VEE How Real Madrid Won The La Liga 2023-24 Without Their Starting CBs and Thibaut Courtois
Soccer Football – LaLiga – Real Madrid v Girona – Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid, Spain – February 10, 2024 Real Madrid’s Rodrygo walks off the pitch after been substituted by Joselu REUTERS/Isabel Infantes

While this assessment may appear overly simplistic – especially since their early weeks didn’t hint at outright domination – with only four games remaining, their lead stands at an insurmountable 13 points over Girona (14 ahead of Barcelona). Ultimately, they were simply superior, surpassing everyone else, even when they didn’t appear to be at their best.

The word “seem” perhaps holds significance there. Madrid is exceptional. Leading from weeks one to five, eight to 11, and 14 to 19, they reclaimed the top spot in week 21 and never relinquished it. They excel across all significant metrics, outscoring and conceding fewer goals than any other team, completing more passes and dribbles, creating more opportunities, and taking more shots. They boast the highest percentage of tackles won, dominate duels, and maintain the most clean sheets.

There are two types of managers: those who do nothing and those who cause a lot of damage,” remarked Carlo Ancelotti this week. “The game belongs to the players.” And Madrid’s players are exceptional. Ultimately, amidst all the analysis, perhaps it boils down to this fundamental truth. Following the Girona match, Ancelotti suggested Vinícius Júnior was the best in the world. When asked who comes next, he responded, “Bellingham.” And who’s after that? “Rodrygo… Fourth: Kroos… Valverde, Camavinga…” Naturally, there’s bias involved. Yet, as he stated, “being on the bench today felt very comfortable.”

77UJV77MRRJHBI4HCLAV52QMRI How Real Madrid Won The La Liga 2023-24 Without Their Starting CBs and Thibaut Courtois
Soccer Football – Real Madrid v RCD Mallorca – Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid, Spain – January 3, 2024 Real Madrid’s Antonio Rudiger celebrates scoring their first goal REUTERS/Juan Medina

Classic Ancelotti indeed, his reluctance to center attention on himself being a key aspect of his success. However, there was a certain significance in that. Yet, it wouldn’t be accurate to say he has done nothing. Instead, he has diligently focused on identifying solutions, quietly working behind the scenes. Within this squad, there are numerous avenues for success, and Ancelotti has adeptly navigated them.

Resilience: Madrid’s Heroes to the Brink of Glory

In the 3-0 victory over Cadiz last Saturday, marking Madrid’s 27th win and bringing them within touching distance of the title, Thibaut Courtois returned to the starting lineup in goal, making a crucial save when the score was 0-0. It was his first appearance of the season following a cruciate ligament injury, an entire campaign endured without the services of the world’s best goalkeeper. Initial doubts surrounding Andriy Lunin prompted Madrid to hastily secure the signing of Kepa Arrizabalaga. However, it was Lunin who emerged as the first-choice keeper, with only two goalkeepers boasting a higher save percentage.

Meanwhile, Éder Militão made only his third start against Cadiz, with David Alaba yet to return from his own knee injury. Ancelotti referred to their center-back injuries as a “world record,” but swiftly moved past it without it derailing their campaign. In their absence, Antonio Rüdiger has emerged as Spain’s standout defender. Aurélien Tchouaméni, despite his discomfort, has excelled when deployed at center-back, as has Dani Carvajal. Lucas Vázquez and Eduardo Camavinga have also impressed when filling in at full-back.

W7IZCAKSVZOQRJHB4HIDYWXOJI How Real Madrid Won The La Liga 2023-24 Without Their Starting CBs and Thibaut Courtois
Soccer Football – LaLiga – Real Madrid v Cadiz – Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid, Spain – May 4, 2024 Real Madrid’s Thibaut Courtois makes a save from Cadiz’s Chris Ramos REUTERS/Juan Medina

Toni Kroos, who appeared to be on the verge of departure, has arguably been the country’s standout player in a restructured midfield. Despite being rested against Cadiz, he has completed 1,999 passes and provided seven assists. With Karim Benzema’s unexpected departure a year earlier than Kylian Mbappé’s arrival, Ancelotti ingeniously devised a new role, somewhat akin to a striker, for Jude Bellingham.

The English international emerged as the league’s top scorer in the first half of the season. While he has experienced a slowdown since February and faced frustrations, he remains just one goal behind Artem Dovbyk. Joselu and Brahim were the goalscorers on the day Madrid sealed the title, with their contributions proving pivotal, tallying nine and six goals respectively.

Despite recent frustrations, the spotlight in this league belongs to Bellingham, who has directly contributed to 22 goals. However, the success has been collective. Vinícius faced challenges with injuries and has only started 20 league games, with his season truly kicking into gear in January, yet he has managed to score 13 goals and provide five assists. Rodrygo initially had doubts but has contributed 10 goals and five assists. Fede Valverde has logged the most minutes of any player, with Ancelotti’s only critique being his lack of arrogance. Nonetheless, the coach has welcomed that trait in others, embracing the absences that others might have complained about.

ZTXTS7UDPBJ4JFDAIZNLCU6Z3M How Real Madrid Won The La Liga 2023-24 Without Their Starting CBs and Thibaut Courtois
Soccer Football – LaLiga – FC Barcelona v Real Madrid – Estadi Olimpic Lluis Companys, Barcelona, Spain – October 28, 2023 Real Madrid’s Jude Bellingham scores their second goal REUTERS/Albert Gea

In times of difficulty, emergency and need, the commitment is higher,” he said.

Overcoming Early Hurdles to Reign Supreme

At the start of the season, success for Madrid seemed anything but assured. However, they navigated their way to victories. They began with a 2-0 triumph at San Mamés against Athletic, the only team to conquer that ground this season. This was followed by a 3-1 win over Almería, who are on track to become the second-worst team in La Liga history, and a narrow 1-0 victory against Celta.

Bellingham found the net in each of these matches, and again against Getafe, securing a dramatic 94th-minute winner in his home debut. While Madrid didn’t entirely convince, their loss to Atlético in week six served as a reality check, exposing their flaws. However, Ancelotti made adjustments, notably closing the gap on the left flank, and they didn’t suffer another defeat thereafter.

When the stakes were highest, Madrid elevated their game, extinguishing any hopes their rivals may have harbored. Girona’s rise was the season’s narrative, yet Madrid comfortably dispatched them with a 3-0 victory in late September. While it may have been somewhat flattering, it underscored their dominance. They secured wins over Barcelona twice, with Bellingham clinching late winners on both occasions.

5QJL7UDVKRIWXJK4YQGV3NDKOI How Real Madrid Won The La Liga 2023-24 Without Their Starting CBs and Thibaut Courtois
Soccer Football – LaLiga – Real Madrid v Athletic Bilbao – Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid, Spain – March 31, 2024 Real Madrid’s Rodrygo scores their first goal REUTERS/Violeta Santos Moura

Following their first Clásico triumph, they were held to a goalless draw by Rayo Vallecano, their sole failure to find the net, before embarking on a run of 10 wins in 11 games. Atlético briefly halted their momentum, offering a glimmer of hope for Girona before being thrashed 4-0 at the Bernabéu. The aggregate score against the only other genuine title contenders: 7-0.

Week after week, Madrid found a way to prevail until they stood head and shoulders above the competition. As the two nearest challengers, who couldn’t truly challenge them, squared off on Saturday night, Girona emerged victorious, clinching a historic Champions League spot. However, the true winners of the night, and the year, had already concluded their match, merely watching and waiting for confirmation of what they had long known to be inevitable.

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