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Five key players in Real Madrid’s title triumph

Real Madrid won La Liga on Saturday after a 4-0 victory against Espanyol left them 17 points clear of Sevilla with four games left to play.

Here, AFP Sport looks at five players that made the difference this season for the newly-crowned Spanish champions.

Karim Benzema

There are a handful of Real Madrid players with a claim to have been the team’s best player this season but none can say they have been more important than Benzema, who is the only one that cannot be adequately replaced. 

Admittedly his value to the side is, in small part, also due to Madrid’s lack of quality back-ups but the level Benzema has reached this term has been astonishing. 

He is La Liga’s top scorer by a distance, with 11 goals separating his 26 from the second best, and he is joint highest for assists. 

After the departures of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, Benzema’s moment finally came in 2021/22 and few would argue if he capped an incredible season by winning the Ballon d’Or later this year.

Luka Modric

Modric turned 36 in September but watching the Croatian this term has been like watching a box-to-box midfielder in his prime. 

With 46 appearances for club and country, Modric has rarely been rested or rotated while concerns earlier in the season about fatigue or injury have not been realised, with Modric finishing just as strongly as he started. 

There has been no obvious sign even of Modric adjusting or reducing his role. He has been Madrid’s midfield metronome, accepting possession in the smallest spaces before releasing others into the biggest ones, all the while throwing himself into tackles, chasing back and showing the kind of leadership this emerging Real Madrid team has needed. 

Along with Benzema, Modric has been Madrid’s outstanding performer of the season.

Vinicius Junior

It is easy to forget the extent of Vinicius’ transformation this season.

The Brazilian has emerged as one of the world’s most dangerous forwards under Carlo Ancelotti, leaving behind the thrilling, but erratic displays, that used to frustrate and entertain Madrid fans in equal measure. 

Vinicius is now a cold, composed finisher and a calm, precise partner for Benzema, his combinations with the Frenchman perhaps the single defining feature of Real Madrid’s dominance this season. 

Together, the pair have 40 goals and 20 assists in La Liga, numbers Madrid’s rivals have simply been unable to match.

Thibaut Courtois

Courtois’ contribution may not have been as obvious as that of Benzema, Modric and Vinicius but the Belgian came to Real Madrid’s rescue more times than the champions’ dominance in the league table suggests. 

On numerous occasions, Courtois made important saves in tight games, depriving opponents of belief and momentum while allowing Benzema and Vinicius to make the difference at the other end. 

Courtois may not be the most nimble with his feet, although he has improved there too, but his presence, command of his area and shot-stopping means he is now one of the finest goalkeepers in the world.

David Alaba

Alaba’s arrival on a free transfer must surely go down as one of the bargains of the season not just in Spain, but anywhere in Europe. 

The Austrian came on the back of Sergio Ramos’ abrupt departure to Paris Saint-Germain and Raphael Varane leaving for Manchester United, which meant the total break-up of one of the most dependable defensive pairings over the last decade. 

But Alaba helped fill the void alongside the vastly-improved Eder Militao and together they formed a reliable, physical and dynamic duo that meant Ramos and Varane were, if not forgotten, hardly missed.

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