Who can stop Real Madrid from winning La Liga?

The last time Real Madrid hoisted the La Liga trophy was back in the 2011/12 season. That year was particularly memorable as the Merengues jumped to first on matchday 10 and never looked back, staying at the summit all the way until the end of the season. May 2012 might not seem like too long ago, but think about it this way: The same month Real Madrid last won La Liga is the same month that "The Avengers" came out.

By their standards, it's been a long drought. Watching their crosstown foes Atletico win it once and rivals Barcelona take the title three times, the Madridistas are ready to reclaim the trophy. Fortunately, they control their own destiny. Even with a loss in El Clasico, Real Madrid still have a game in hand and the title's theirs as long as they don't suffer a loss.

With five La Liga matches left, which could be the one that trips up the title-hopefuls? We've ranked them in order of difficulty, starting with the least difficult match.

April 26: at Deportivo la Coruna
Real's first test following the El Clasico loss is a trip to Deportivo. Earlier in the season at the Santiago Bernabeu, 16th-place Deportivo nearly earned a memorable draw. If not for a last-gasp Sergio Ramos header, things could be looking very different.

That result comes with a massive caveat, though. Real Madrid were coming off back-to-back pressure-filled matches against Barcelona domestically and Dortmund in the Champions League. Gareth Bale was out injured and Zidane started a significantly weaker side at home without Ronaldo or Benzema even in the squad.

With the La Liga title within reach, it'd be surprising so see them play at less than full strength (barring injury).

May 21: at Malaga
Real's first encounter with Malaga was also a tight win, but they lost Marcelo in that contest to injury early. Isco came on in Zidane's tactical reshuffle and Malaga were able to claw a goal back after Sergio Ramos' first-half brace.

Malaga have played well lately, at least against the bigger fish. May 21 is a ways away and a lot can change between then and now, but on recent form Malaga have beaten Valencia and Barcelona in April. They've also lost to Deportivo, though, so take that as you will.

May 6: at Granada

How can a team that Real crushed 5-0 earlier in the season pose a threat to the title contenders? Call me nuts, but this could be the banana skin that just trips up Real Madrid. What makes this match stand out is that it falls between Real Madrid's Champions League semifinal legs.

Zidane might be inclined to rest some of his stars for the Granada trip. Even if he doesn't, the Merengues will be coming off of hosting Atletico four days prior. They'll also have the second leg of the all-Madrid UCL semifinal four days after the Granada match. It'd be a major upset to drop points, but it's not unthinkable to see Real Madrid's player having their focus elsewhere.

April 29: vs. Valencia
Valencia blitzed Real Madrid in their February meeting, with Simone Zaza and Fabian Orellana both scoring before the 10-minute mark. Ronaldo pulled one back but Madrid couldn't get a result, falling 2-1 in the contest. Madrid fashioned a few chances, and both sides had penalty shouts waved off, so there's a chance this match is just as wide open.

The visitors will have little else to play for but pride when they head to the Santiago Bernabeu, but it wouldn't hurt their morale to pull off a sensational La Liga double against Real Madrid. It should be a dangerous one for Los Blancos.

May 14: vs. Sevilla
This will mark the fifth time in all competitions that Sevilla and Real Madrid square off, so they're keenly acquainted with one another. Real got the better of Sevilla in their first three meetings, but the Andalusian club won their recent meeting in La Liga. With their Champions League hopes dashed in the round of 16, Sevilla could use the match against Madrid to try and end the season on a positive note.

Jorge Sampaoli's team will also have the added incentive of trying to retain their spot in next season's Champions League, so they'll certainly be up for the match. They needed some last-minute magic from Stevan Jovetic to beat 'em last time, so it won't be easy, but it could happen.

In conclusion, it's tough to see Real losing any of these matches and opening the door for Barcelona to swipe the title. Even a draw doesn't spoil their shot, so there's still breathing room. There's also no guarantee that Barcelona win out, either.

The title is there for the taking for Real Madrid, that's all we can say for sure. There are some obstacles along the way that could trip up Los Blancos, but it would be surprising to see them let it slip this late. It should be an interesting final couple of weeks in Spain.


Real Madrid should prioritise Marco Asensio, Isco and James over Gareth Bale

The argument should certainly exist that Real Madrid's reserve options, those which Zinedine Zidane calls upon when in need of rotation, have the collective talent to beat their first-choice counterparts. Gareth Bale should not be risked when the Frenchman boasts a large armoury.

Against Deportivo, once again, the likes of Lucas Vazquez, Alvaro Morata and Mateo Kovacic were forced to play for their relevance in the first-choice picture at Los Blancos, due to their current position of sitting a long way down the pecking order at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu.

Isco, James Rodriguez and Marco Asensio also continued to figure as talented, yet frustrated, protagonists who should be getting more minutes in LaLiga. Each fortnight, when Zidane is forced to make wholesale changes to his starting line-up due to a previously draining encounter, they stake the same claim: they should be his Plan A.

Instead, Real Madrid lined up for El Clasico last weekend with Bale, despite fitness concerns that have plagued him since November. The 27-year-old was deployed on the left-hand side, before rapidly finding himself switched over to the right. Before the 40-minute mark had even come around, he was forced off due to injury.

Risking the physical wellbeing of a player is but the first faux pas. It seemed so needless, not least due to the fact that Bale has struggled to make a consistent impact when featuring for Los Blancos over the last couple of months, but also that Isco, James and Marco Asensio have been offering good performances with regularity whenever they have been given the opportunity to impress.

Wednesday's 6-2 victory at Riazor only underlined this fact. Real Madrid's 'reserve' attacking options are supremely gifted and arguably would function far better than their trio of teammates called BBC have managed to this season.

Rather than accommodating for Karim Benzema and Bale's lack of consistency, which leaves the team as a whole vulnerable when the front three fade, there seems to be no excuse as to why James nor Marco Asensio were not chosen to feature out on the right on Sunday evening.

Cristiano Ronaldo has stepped up with some vital goals recently, with his training and physical fitness based around the Portuguese forward being at the top of his game over the next month or two, but the same cannot be said of Benzema nor Bale. They are replaceable and this should be acted upon, with the latter's short-term unavailability taking what should be Zidane's long-term decision for him.

Isco is playing with a silky confidence, as highlighted by his neat midweek finish and a whole highlight reel of intricate pieces of skill. It oozes out of his very pores, with such a calm belief in his own ability transferring to the teammates around him. There is no arrogance to be found, just an awareness that he is playing his best football to date.

Marco Asensio, meanwhile, has to be prioritised ahead of Bale. It is the responsible thing to do, while respectfully acknowledging that the Welshman was fantastic last season.

Living in the present, it is unrealistic to assume that Real Madrid will be able to use Bale regularly without injury problems arising, while his young teammate is playing with confidence, can offer incredible pace while dribbling and isn't fazed in the slightest by the big occasions. After his loan spell was a success at Espanyol, he showed that he is ready - and recent performances against Bayern Munich and Barcelona only continue to state the obvious.

Away from their impressive showings on the field of play, their attitudes speak volumes too. James' recent celebrations have consisted of a gesture that suggests the Colombia international is only focused on staying at Real Madrid, while there has never been any doubt that Isco and Marco Asensio aren't working hard to play a bigger role at a club which they love.

The desire to hold down a first-team place is there, as is the work ethic to make a starting spot their own. All that remains is for Zidane to come around to the idea that his front three could need an overhaul. After the balanced attacking showing at Riazor, change should be in the offing.

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