Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti believes his side struggled physically as their Spanish La Liga title hopes were dented by a 2-2 draw at home to Valencia on Sunday. Atletico Madrid's 2-0 defeat away to Levante earlier in the day had opened the door for Real to close to within three points of their city rivals with a game in hand to come.
However, despite Cristiano Ronaldo's stunning injury time equaliser, Real could only manage a point which leaves Atletico needing just four points from their remaining two games to take the title for the first time in 18 years. Real had come into the game on a high having thrashed Bayern Munich 4-0 to progress to the UEFA Champions League final for the first time in 12 years on Tuesday.
Ancelotti, though, thinks both his players and Atletico paid for their exertions in overcoming the German champions and Chelsea respectively in midweek.
"I think it was physical tiredness more than anything," explained Ancelotti. "You saw Atletico and Chelsea have had the same problem, it is difficult to give your maximum physically days after the intensity of a Champions League semi-final."
Real are back in action on Wednesday when they travel to relegation-threatened Valladolid and Ancelotti knows his side must now win their remaining three games to maintain any realistic hope of winning the league.
"The team is not happy and that is normal because we tried to win until the end, but we will have the same desire and will to fight until the last game. To have a chance we need to win all three games and it won't be easy because we play two away from home against teams that are fighting themselves."
Despite the disappointment, Ancelotti did still take time to marvel at Ronaldo's backheeled finish deep into stoppage time to register his 50th goal of the season.
"It was a great goal and a very important goal one because to lose this game meant losing the league and the goal at least gives us a chance until the end. We have lost an opportunity today, but not a huge one because winning today meant Atletico had to win both games. As it is they still have to get four, including a draw at Barcelona."
Simeone takes defeat on the chin
Ironically, Ronaldo's equaliser may also prove to be good news for Atletico as it prevented Barcelona having the chance to win the league back in their own hands. And Atletico boss Diego Simeone is determined to enjoy the final three weeks of an enthralling season as his side face Malaga and Barca before meeting Real in the Champions League final on 24 May.
"We have three fantastic weeks ahead, including the game on the 24th. Three finals await us and we have to concentrate on the first of those, which is at home to Malaga next Sunday. We have always maintained the same philosophy and our composure.
"We have always said that we are competing against two very powerful teams and it isn't often that they lose games. Today it was our turn to lose, but we look forward to the remaining three weeks with great emotion and excitement. The league is much more fun from now on."