MADRID: Barcelona claimed their fifth La Liga title in seven years and their 23rd overall as Lionel Messi scored the winner in a 1-0 victory at Atletico Madrid on Sunday (Monday in Manila).
Exactly a year to the day since Atletico won the league in a title decider at Barca’s Camp Nou, the Catalans exacted some measure of revenge to seal the first of a potential treble of trophies this season.
Luis Enrique’s men face Athletic Bilbao in the finals of the Copa del Rey on home soil at the Camp Nou on May 30 and Juventus in the Champions League finals a week later in Berlin.
“We started 10 months ago with many changes at the club and coming off a season having not won anything,” said the Barca coach.
“We knew it would be a season of transition and we tried to do our best. We have two titles still to play for, but we already have the one that rewards consistency.”
Cristiano Ronaldo struck his 30th Real Madrid hat-trick as Los Blancos bounced back from their Champions League elimination at the hands of Juventus to beat Espanyol 4-1, but it mattered little as they still trail Barca by four points with just one game to play.
Meanwhile, this defeat means Atletico need just a point on the final day to secure their place in the group stages of the Champions League next season by finishing third as Valencia could only manage a 1-1 draw at home to Celta Vigo.
With temperatures at kick-off above 30 degrees celsius, a somewhat subdued start wasn’t surprising, but it was the hosts who had the better openings early on.
Claudio Bravo made a stunning save to palm Jose Maria Gimenez’s header from a corner and the Chilean produced another fine stop moments later from Antoine Griezmann, although the Frenchman had already been flagged offside.
Barca grew into the game as the half wore on with Messi testing Jan Oblak with a drive from the edge of the area and then a headed effort that was easily held by the Slovenian.
The visitors were then left furious at referee Alberto Undiano Mallenco as he turned down two huge penalty claims.
Firstly, another goalbound Messi header was diverted off target by the arm of Juanfran before Dani Alves went down under pressure from Diego Godin.
Godin was booked for a foul outside the box despite contact continuing inside the area and Messi curled the resulting free-kick off the crossbar.
Atletico threatened once more from a set-piece at the start of the second period but unlike his title winning strike last season, the unmarked Diego Godin couldn’t turn his header on target.
Moment of magic
As so often this season, it was Messi who provided the moment of magic for Barca as he played a neat one-two with Pedro Rodriguez inside the area before prodding the ball into the far corner.
Messi then teed up Neymar with a great opportunity to seal the title, but the Brazilian failed to continue his seven-game scoring streak as he blasted over with just Oblak to beat.
That miss mattered little, though, as the visitors comfortably saw out the final few minutes.
Madrid did all they could to keep the pressure on Barca as Ronaldo all but ensured he will at least win his duel with Messi to be the league’s top scorer by taking his tally for the league season to 45.
The Portuguese put Madrid ahead before an error from Keylor Navas allowed Christian Stuani to level for Espanyol.
However, Marcelo put Carlo Ancelotti’s men back in front before Ronaldo struck twice more in the final eight minutes.
At the bottom Deportivo la Coruna and Granada moved out of the relegation zone with victories over Levante and Real Sociedad respectively.
They now lead Eibar and Almeria by two points with all four fighting for survival on the final day of the season next Saturday.