La Liga Analysis Opinion

Camp Nou, Barcelona – It had to be him. It had to be Leo Messi who clinched Barcelona’s eighth La Liga title in 11 years. He has been so instrumental, like in the seven previous, to this season’s triumph which was been coming for a while. Barcelona have more or less led the way since matchday two, baring two weeks in late Autumn when Sevilla took top spot. The fact that Barcelona have won the title with three games still to be played highlights how relatively comfortable it has been for Ernesto Valverde’s side.

Barcelona have been conservative under Valverde, they do not dazzle quite as bright as they did a few seasons ago, but still they are efficient and play to the strengths of the individual components. Gerard Pique has been consistent at the back, playing one of his best season’s in the blaugrana colours. Behind him, Marc-Andre ter Stegen has been phenomenal and if Jan Oblak was not in La Liga, he’d be praised as the best by a mile. Ivan Rakitic and Sergi Busquets have dictated midfield in their usual minimal yet effective manner whilst Messi and Suarez have provided so much more than goals.

Having such a strong core has allowed Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele along with Arthur to try and find their feet in such a defined system and club. The squad is not deep, in fact rather small by La Liga comparison, but the small core is the best around. It is tight-knit with everyone on the same wavelength. It has led them to the Copa del Rey final against Valencia in late May where they will look to retain the domestic double. And they are also in the semi finals of the Champions League up against Liverpool with the first leg on Wednesday, hence why Messi started on the bench against Levante.

So far, it has been a perfect season for Valverde who seems to be able to manage this club perfectly, deftly almost, but so effectively. Never too high, never too low; it is the grounding that players at such a club need. Having Messi helps, of course; his modus operandi this season has been rather simple: spend the first five minutes weighing up the opposition before appearing and applying devastating touches, assists and goals from then on.

“La decima de Messi,” shouted the front cover of AS, highlighting that this was the Barcelona captain’s tenth La Liga title. “The league is from Messi,” read Sport‘s headline, which also had in quotation marks the statement from Valverde that was also printed on the victory t-shirts the players donned post-match: “Extraordinarily, it seems normal.” What wasn’t normal though was that Barcelona were able to celebrate their La Liga title victory at home in front of their supporters. Not since 2010 have they had that privilege with their last four titles being won away or without even playing at all.

Also, in a break from tradition – or lack of poor planning by the league – the trophy ceremony was on the evening too. It made for 30 minutes or so of celebrations on the turf at the Camp Nou. Though for much of the match it seemed that visitors Levante were going to spoil the party. Barcelona needed victory to seal the title. Levante played their own game and Jose Luis Morales had a very good chance to take Paco Lopez’s side level after Messi had come off the bench to give Barcelona the lead.

It was the three line attack that Lopez fielded in the second half with Jason and Borja Mayoral dovetailing Morales who came off the bench, that concerned the Barcelona defence. They were pushed back and offered a sign of what is to come when Liverpool turn up. Liverpool will have greater quality but, nevertheless, Levante were well balanced, mixing their sturdy first half display in which they frustrated their hosts with a more expansive approach in the second.

It was Barcelona who dominated the opening half, with Coutinho particularly lively. He and Dembele both started alongside Suarez as Valverde rested Messi on the bench along with Busquets. Suarez drew a fine left hand reaction save from Levante goalkeeper Aitor Fernandez with a shot from the outside of his foot having powered past Luna. Coutinho fired a fierce free-kick towards the top corner and again Aitor had to intervene to tip onto the crossbar.

Having weathered the first half, Levante were more progressive after the break. Morales came off the bench, but so did Messi. The key that Barcelona had been searching for to unlock the Levante defence came where most expected. Just after the hour mark, following a piece of messy play in another sense, Messi took control in the area, turned and shot past Aitor. His 34th La Liga goal of the season rightly seeing Barcelona over the line.

Levante though looked capable of leveling and when Pique misjudged a header to allow Morales a run at goal, it seemed inevitable. The Levante captain took one touch to control and then side-footed a shot over the crossbar from a position which he has scored countless times before. Moments later Levante had another chance to equalise; Campana pulled the ball back to substitute Enis Bardhi, who was free of markers, but his slotted shot struck the inside of the post. Ter Stegen had to be alert to pull the ball away from the goalline before grasping it and laughing at the slapstick nature of it all.

Not too long after, choruses of Campeones began to circulate the Camp Nou. Levante were unable to get their goal, one that would have been crucial given they are not safe from relegation yet. On the other hand, it was an evening of celebration for La Blaugrana, albeit it was only confirming the inevitable. Their focus now turns to Liverpool and the Champions League, the one which is the most important and that upon which the season will be truly judged.

Los Otros Puntos

What a result for Rayo Vallecano, who beat Real Madrid thanks to a penalty midway through the first half; Adri Embarba converted after VAR awarded the spot-kick. It won’t be enough to keep Rayo in La Liga but it will be an evening cherished nevertheless by the locals. A club rooted in its local surroundings, the Rayo fans will have enjoyed more than most bloodying the nose of their affluent inner-city opponents. Real lacked cohesion on the night, mainly due to the eight changes that Zinedine Zidane made to the starting line-up, their season cannot finish too soon one assumes.

Sunday was quite a day for the fight for 4th-place and a story of missed opportunities. Firstly, Valencia conceded a very, very, very late goal at home to Eibar in the early kickoff. Then Girona managed a surprise win, their first since mid-March having had seven losses on the run and their first at home since late-October, against Sevilla. It was the biggest shock; a massive result for Girona who moved out of the bottom three with the three points, whereas Sevilla failed to widen the gap between themselves and Valencia. Finally on to Getafe, who also lost. They fell two goals behind to Real Sociedad but could only score one in reply. So it’s as you were in the race, or fight to avoid, 4th-place.

Meanwhile at the Metropolitano, Valladolid were so close to gaining a priceless point against Atletico Madrid but a Joaquin Fernandez own goal in the second half gave Diego Simeone’s side fourth straight La Liga win. The defeat sent Valladolid into the bottom three where, with three games remaining, it’s looking likely they will finish.

A further reason for Valladolid to fear the worst is that Celta Vigo picked up another point to take them three clear of the relegation zone.

Los Resultados

Athletic 1-1 Alaves

Atletico Madrid 1-0 Valladolid

Leganes 0-0 Celta Vigo

Barcelona 1-0 Levante

Valencia 0-1 Eibar

Girona 1-0 Sevilla

Real Sociedad 2-1 Getafe

Villarreal 1-1 Huesca

Rayo Vallecano 1-0 Real Madrid

Real Betis – Espanyol to be played on Monday

La Clasificación

La Liga Analysis Opinion