Barcelona claim their 23rd league title by defeating Atletico Madrid on La Liga’s penultimate matchday.
Goin’ Back to Barca
Barcelona have reclaimed their first piece of silverware by recapturing La Liga’s crown, thanks to a hard-fought away win against reigning champions Atletico Madrid. Lionel Messi scored the lone goal in the 1-0 victory.
The game began expectedly with Atleti imposing their will onto the Catalans in hopes of bullying their way to a result. But, as we’ve seen many times this season, Barca soon harnessed control of the match and spent the better part of the final 70 minutes trying to unlock Atleti’s historically stingy defense. And they eventually did, through a textbook close-controlled tiki-taka play finished off by Messi.
The inimitable Luis Suarez sat out the match due to a hamstring problem and was replaced by longtime Barca stalwart Pedro. The rest of the lineup consisted of the usual suspects who’ve spent the last nine months tug-of-warring the title back to Catalunya. The stonewall keeping duo of Claudio Bravo and Marc-Andre ter Stegen; the now irreplaceable defensive four of Gerard Pique, Javier Mascherano, Jordi Alba, and Dani Alves (with Jeremy Mathieu deputizing off the bench); the midfield trio of Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta, and Ivan Rakitic (with Xavi and Rafinha superbly filling the gaps); and, of course, Messi and Neymar raising Hell up-front. The early season may have featured the likes of Munir, Sergi Samper, and Sandro Ramirez, but Luis Enrique’s working squad has long been set as the same ones who sealed the deal today. Though we may talk about the emphatic prowess of the front-three, this really has been a success built on teamwork.
It’s certainly been one of the keys to Barca’s 2015 success that said lineup hasn’t changed much. While Carlo Ancelotti’s squad has been destroyed with injuries throughout the season, Enrique’s selections have been consistently available. Even when they’re not, the fact that he can go to an unrivaled game-controller like Xavi Hernandez, or a seasoned Champions League winner like Pedro, when things are in doubt, makes it all the easier.
Then again, they’re also just really, really, really good. To this point, Barca have scored three less goals than Madrid, while having allowed just over half of the amount that Madrid has. That’s good. Really, really, really good. Championship good.
Real Thrash Espanyol in Vain
They came into Fecha 37 with slim but live hopes in catching first-place Barcelona, but left with little to cheer about. In all reality, it could’ve been worse: they could’ve been Espanyol.
A Cristiano Ronaldo hat-trick helped secure all three points for Real Madrid in a 4-1 win at the Cornella-El Prat. Marcelo scored Madrid’s other goal, while Christian Stuani got on the scoresheet for the hosts. Though it was the result Los Blancos were looking for, Barcelona’s win over Atletico Madrid ultimately killed their rendered it meaningless. This failure means Madrid have still only won the league once in the last seven years.
It hasn’t been a disastrous campaign for Madrid, regardless of what critics will say. They were within reach of the title up to this week and have certainly dazzled at times. It must be said that they’ve been pretty unlucky as far as injuries go. And, to be honest, while a trophyless season is never preferable, last year’s seminal double was always going to be difficult to trump.
Per usual, Cristiano Ronaldo stood out as their best performer, both on Sunday and all season long. His three goals against Espanyol put him firmly in pole position to secure his third Pichichi award as La Liga’s top scorer. The Portuguese’s 45 tallies currently lead Messi, who sits on 41. And even though Barcelona have lowly Deportivo at home next week, it seems unlikely that Ronaldo’s triumph will be threatened.
It’d be a measly consolation to most, but something tells me these individual accomplishments are important to Cristiano. That’s okay, too. It’s that very same arrogance that makes Ronaldo the supreme footballer that he is. His intensity against Espanyol, despite the purveying thought the Liga was likely out of reach for Real, indicates the pride of being the best never ceases for the Portuguese. Though there might not be any trophies to shine this year in Madrid, Ronaldo is still there, which means they’ll challenge again come August.
With one week left in the La Liga campaign, it’s now do-or-die for the sides at the bottom of the table. Cordoba may be dead and buried, but the rest are still kicking, if only just.
There have been two stories dominating Spain’s relegation picture in recent weeks. The first is a feel-good tale that keeps getting better. After spending much of the season in the dropzone, Granada have pulled a remarkable escape by winning their last three matches, including Sunday’s impressive 3-0 win over Real Sociedad. This puts the Nazaries in 16th place on 34 points, two points above safety. Despite scoring the second-fewest goals and owning the second-worst goal-differential, the Nazaries are proving that it’s all about getting hot at the right times. They’ll welcome Atletico Madrid next week.
The other big La Liga relegation story has been in production for months now. Eibar’s fall from darlings-to-dodos has nearly reached rock bottom as the Armeros now sit in the relegation zone. They now sit in 18th place and two points from safety. Though things are bad, Eibar did grind out a point on Sunday against Getafe, which is absolutely vital as they’d play for their top-flight lives next week when they welcome already-relegated Cordoba.
But the biggest result of the matchday undoubtedly came from Deportivo, who defeated Levante 2-0 to leapfrog into 17th place. It’s undoubtedly been an awful season for the Brancoazuis, but the run-in has revealed a fighting spirit within the team. Although the Levante win was their first since the beginning of February, they managed to amass six draws in the previous nine league games en route to safety. Next week should be interesting, as Depor will visit a celebratory Camp Nou with hopes of getting a result. Luis Enrique will likely field a weakened side with the league already secured and two massive cup finals on the horizon, but even a Barcelona reserve side would be favored over Deportivo. The Galacians have proven that their up-for-the-grind, but this could be one grind too far.