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Decima or disaster? Madrid must rest Ronaldo as title hopes evaporate

Cristiano was withdrawn with muscle fatigue and, although the problem doesn't seem serious, Real can't afford to risk its star man ahead of the Champions League final

La Liga looks lost now for Real Madrid. Carlo Ancelotti's men would be joint-top of the table if they had beaten Valencia and Valladolid over the last four days, but back-to-back draws have left them lagging behind - and it's time to look towards the Champions League instead.

Madrid was without Gareth Bale at Zorrilla and lost Cristiano Ronaldo to injury after eight minutes. Despite going ahead through Sergio Ramos' free kick, a late leveler from Humberto Osorio denied the Blancos victory and has seemingly ended their hopes of claiming the title, too.

With an inferior record in head-to-head match-ups with both Barcelona and Atleti, Real needed to finish top outright anyway, but can now win no more than 90 points. Atleti, meanwhile, has 88 and Barca 85. The fat lady is warming up her vocal chords for the Santiago Bernabeu side.

Madrid's hopes of a treble are seemingly gone, but the Copa del Rey and the Champions League would represent an impressive return for the club in Ancelotti's first season in Spain. The cup has already been won, while Madrid is favored to beat city rival Atleti in the sides' showpiece in Lisbon later this month.

Madrid must focus on that now, rest Ronaldo and ensure the team is in tip-top condition for its Decima date. In the meantime, Atletico will be straining every sinew to try to claim La Liga and will likely need at least a point at Camp Nou on the final day of the season. If, as expected, Diego Simeone's side beats Malaga on Sunday, Madrid will be out of the race anyway and can concentrate solely on Lisbon, handing much-needed rest and recuperation time to the players who will feature in the Champions League final.

Ronaldo had been struggling for fitness prior to Wednesday's game and, although Ancelotti said after the match his injury was not serious, Madrid said something similar when he was injured against Borussia Dortmund in early April. He then aggravated the problem ahead of the second leg in Germany and ended up missing several weeks. A repeat prior to the Champions League final would be disastrous.

"We'll see in the coming days, but I don't think Cristiano has a big problem," Ancelotti said after the game on Wednesday. "He wasn't comfortable, so I substituted him."

But now there's no need to risk him at all. Ancelotti et al. will want to win at Celta on Sunday to keep their slim hopes of winning the Primera Division alive, but resting Ronaldo seems the sensible thing to do ahead of what is the club's biggest match in 12 years (its last Champions League crown came in 2002).

Already without Xabi Alonso for the derby date in Lisbon, Ancelotti needs Ronaldo and Bale firing on all cylinders to overcome Simeone's side. So perhaps the draw on Wednesday is a blessing in disguise and will ultimately help the club end its perennial pursuit of La Decima by beating Atleti on May 24. Risk Ronaldo, however, and Madrid could end up losing the Champions League as well as La Liga - and that's a price not worth paying in what could yet be a successful season.

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