BARCELONA: Barcelona claimed their 24th La Liga title on Sunday with a 3-0 win at Granada.
Here, Agence France-Presse Sports looks at five key reasons why Luis Enrique’s men retained their title despite a thrilling chase from Champions League finalists Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid.
– Survived Messi’s injury absence
When five-time World Player of the Year Lionel Messi went down with knee ligament damage against Las Palmas in September ruling him out for two months, the time seemed ripe for Barca’s title rivals to capitalize.
Instead, inspired by the remaining two stars of stellar front three, Luis Suarez and Neymar, Barca fired their way to the top of the table in Messi’s absence with five wins from six games.
More remarkably, by the time Messi set foot back on the pitch in El Clasico against Real, Barca were already leading 3-0 before going onto complete a 4-0 rout after which they were never usurped by their eternal rivals.
– Insatiable Suarez
For the first time in seven years, the Pichichi trophy awarded to La Liga’s top scorer wasn’t won by Messi or Real’s Cristiano Ronaldo.
Suarez’s 40 La Liga goals is a record for anyone other than Messi or Ronaldo, who have taken goalscoring to barely believable figures over the past decade.
The Uruguayan has 59 in 52 games in all competitions and, more crucially, has come up big when Barca needed him most.
He scored 12 in 10 games during Messi’s injury layoff and 14 in the last five matches of the league season to prevent the title slipping out of Barca’s grasp.
– Atletico comebacks
It is hard to think of a tougher task in European football than coming from behind against the continent’s meanest defense in Atletico Madrid.
Barca and Bayern Munich found that to their cost in being eliminated from the Champions League.
However, in their two league meetings, Barca reacted from conceding first to win 2-1 for six points that prevented Diego Simeone’s men from winning a second title in three years.
– Bounceback from spring slump
Barca looked set to wrap the title up weeks ago during a 39-game unbeaten run stretching from October to April that saw them lead Atletico and Real by nine and 12 points respectively.
However, a run of one point from a possible 12, including defeat at home to Real to break their unbeaten streak and spark a run of three consecutive league defeats for the first time in 13 years set up a thrilling three-way fight for the title.
Barca’s response since then of five wins from five, scoring 24 goals without reply in the process has been one of champions.
– Prime Pique
Barca’s South American striking triumvirate of Suarez, Messi and Neymar hogs the headlines after a 130-goal season. Yet, at the other end of the field Gerard Pique’s return to being one of the best center-backs in world football has proven just as important to hold an at times crumbling defense together.
It was the substitution of Pique with Barca leading 2-0 at Villarreal in late March which sparked the Catalans’ mini-collapse.
Pique has attracted criticism throughout the season for his controversial comments and use of social media, yet he his actions on the pitch have been of a true leader when his side most needed one. AFP