Barcelona: For the second year in a row, FC Barcelona are the champions of Spain. Ernesto Valverde has overseen another LaLiga Santander triumph, taking the Blaugrana onto 26 league titles. They’re now just seven behind Real Madrid’s record haul of 33 league trophies, a gap which has closed dramatically over the past decade; Barcelona have finished top of the pile in an incredible eight of the last eleven seasons.
Talisman and all-time great Lionel Messi has been involved in all eight of those triumphs, plus the title wins of 2004/05 and 2005/06, meaning his LaLiga medal tally has reached double figures. It’s a tally that no Barcelona player in history has matched; only Real Madrid legends Pirri (10) and Paco Gento (12) have hit that milestone in LaLiga history.
Messi will lift this season’s trophy for the first time as captain and there’s nobody more deserving. Barring a crazy, barren end to the season the Rosario native will clinch his sixth LaLiga Santander top-scorer award, equalling Telmo Zarra’s record for Athletic Club set over seventy years ago.
Right from the start, Messi’s dynamic performances proved key as he scored twice in a 3-0 victory over D. Alaves on the opening day of the season. It was Barcelona’s impressive start that set the tone for what was to come, with Valverde’s men winning each of their first four fixtures.
Following a minor stumble in September and October, during which time they failed to win on four consecutive matchdays – drawing with Girona, Athletic Club and Valencia and losing to Leganes – they got back on track and have been top of the league for most of the season.
Diego Simeone’s Atlético de Madrid proved to be their closest challengers all season. Ousmane Dembele’s last-gasp equaliser following Diego Costa’s opener in their 1-1 at the Wanda Metropolitano in November proved decisive. A loss would have seen them drop into third; instead they finished the matchday behind only Sevilla, leapfrogging them into first place just a week later. They’ve been top ever since.
That draw against Atlético de Madrid was followed by an eight-match winning streak, during which they conceded just twice. Barcelona aren’t often associated with defensive solidity but that’s unfair. In addition to the headline-grabbing goals from Messi, Suarez et al upfront, the Blaugrana have been incredibly stingy at the back this season, thanks in no small part to the formidable centre-back partnership that has developed between veteran Gerard Pique and summer signing Clement Lenglet.
What’s more, on the rare occasions when these two were overcome, opposition strikers came face-to-face with Marc-Andre ter Stegen. The German had another sensational year between the sticks, proving once again that he is one of the very best goalkeepers in the world, if not the best.
All of the above has combined to make Barcelona champions once again and the fact that they’ve done so with weeks to spare proves just how dominant they’ve been.
Valverde’s side have come up against world-class opponents from the capital in the form of Atlético de Madrid and Real Madrid, a Sevilla side that started the season in unstoppable form, Europa League semi-finalists Valencia and many other challenging sides, but they’ve conquered all in their path and are now deservedly celebrating their 26th LaLiga championship.