How Barcelona overcame their woes to win the La Liga title
Catalan outfit crowned Spanish champions with 1-0 victory over Atletico Madrid, barely five months after an upheaval when Lionel Messi was benched and top officials were sacked
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.
Barcelona players celebrate winning the La Liga championship after beating Atletico Madrid at the Vicente Calderon Stadium on Sunday. Pic/AFP
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.
Ron's hat-trick in vain
Meanwhile, 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 trail Barca by four points with just one game to play. With La Liga sealed, Barcelona are hoping they can add the Champions League and Copa del Rey trophies to their kitty this season.
The title seemed improbable when 2015 began. The Catalans opened the year with a 0-1 defeat at Real Sociedad and descended into full blown institutional crisis. Lionel Messi and Neymar had been left on the bench in San Sebastian, a decision which didn't rest well with the former as he skipped a training session the next day. On the same day, sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta was sacked and his assistant and club legend Carles Puyol walked.
The following week Luis Enrique's job was on the line as champions Atletico Madrid visited Camp Nou, but rather than leave their coach out to dry, Barca produced their best performance of the season and set in motion a run of 29 wins in 32 games to propel them to glory on all fronts.
The biggest change came from Messi himself, though. A week after the Sociedad game, the four-time World Player of the Year had to watch Cristiano Ronaldo pick up his third Ballon d'Or. Yet, in the five months which followed, Messi has recovered the level that made him the world's best between 2009 and 2012.
If Messi's 54 goals and 30 assists have been the catalyst for Barca's stellar run, Neymar and Luis Suarez have starred in the supporting role. Messi's upturn in the new year coincided with Suarez recovering his best form and a switch in positions between the two as the Uruguayan played more centrally to allow Messi to use his full repertoire of skills from a deeper role. Suarez has added a different dimension to Barcelona, a directness and, at times, nastiness that offers more variety.
Meanwhile, Neymar's 37 goals mean he has struck more than the likes of Samuel Eto'o, Ronaldinho, Rivaldo or Thierry Henry ever managed for Barca in a season. Fittingly it was at Atletico, exactly a year to the day since Los Rojiblancos won the league at the Camp Nou, where the league title was won on Sunday thanks to a piece of Messi genius.
Did you know?
Having won the La Liga title, Barca can win two more trophies this season. They face Athletic Bilbao in the final of the Copa del Rey on home soil at the Camp Nou on May 30 and Juventus in the Champions League final a week later.
Percentage of Barcelona's 108 goals in the league that have been scored by Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar (79). The trio has scored an overwhelming 115 goals in all competitions this season, beating the previous club record of 100 goals scored by Messi, Thierry Henry and Samuel Eto'o in 2008/09.
No of clean sheets Luis Enrique's men have managed in 37 league matches to date.
The number of minutes Lionel Messi has spent on the bench in Barcelona's La Liga campaign this season. Messi's presence on the bench in the first half in a 0-1 defeat to Real Sociedad in January led to a crisis that ultimately proved to be the turning point in Barca's season.
No of times Barca have scored five goals or more this season. Cordoba suffered the most in an 8-0 thrashing earlier this month, whilst Granada, Elche, Rayo Vallecano and Getafe have also been hit for six.
No of times Andres Iniesta and Xavi have only started together this season. The two were the bedrocks around which Barca was built during Pep Guardiola's era of 14 trophies in four years between 2008 and 2012.