Brilliant Barca fend off Real to clinch title number twenty

by David Bevan

Barcelona 4 Valladolid 0

If Barcelona and Real Madrid are seen as two well-oiled machines at full pelt, one nosing ahead of the other, then events on the final Saturday of La Liga almost resembled Wacky Races in comparison. At the foot of the table, it’s more like Countdown as the Segunda Division prepares to welcome three of the bottom five next season.

With the clock ticking towards a conclusion, Carol’s hand hovered over Xerez, Tenerife and Racing Santander. Above the dreaded dashed line, Valladolid and Malaga nervously looked over their shoulder as they each prepared to play the supporting roles in the drama set at the top.

Valencia, firmly wedged in third spot, were able to set out the barstools on Saturday night and sip sangria with a sense of satisfaction while watching Sevilla and Mallorca fight for the right to sit beneath them. In the end, at the very end, the Andalucians snatched the final Champions League place. But Valencia’s job this season was not completely over. Unai Emery’s men faced Tenerife at the Mestalla on the final day.

With their three closest rivals facing Spain’s three best clubs, Xerez and Racing must have fancied their chances. The basement boys travelled to Osasuna while the Santander side hosted Sporting Gijon.

Let’s not kid ourselves though. The real story has always been at the other end of the table. The two-horse race between the Blaugrana and Los Blancos has dominated La Liga all season and the final day was no different. All eyes were on the Camp Nou. Barca simply needed to win.

They began in nervous fashion and captain Carles Puyol needed to fashion a crucial block in order to keep the game goalless in the opening stages after an error from Victor Valdes. Valladolid forced two early corners as the champions-elect struggled to get their usual firm grip on proceedings.

The two-goal cushion soon arrived though, shortly after Malaga opened the scoring on the south coast. Pedro was the architect of the first, darting into space on the left and cutting the ball back for Luis Prieto to bundle into his own net for a fortunate opener. The Canary Islander made it two when he latched onto Lionel Messi’s through ball and slotted home expertly. The buildup play featuring Messi and Yaya Toure was exceptional.

So, all over. Not vintage Barca but, nevertheless, finito just over half an hour into the final game of the season. Real Madrid can take credit for pushing Barca as far as they did, or at least as much credit as you can give a team assembled for hundreds of millions.

The real credit has to go to Barcelona, who have seen off the significant threat of Ronaldo and co despite being without the likes of Andres Iniesta and Eric Abidal for long periods. They have also gone without Zlatan Ibrahimovic for lengthy spells, but that has often been by design through non-selection. This has especially been the case in recent weeks and Bojan’s lively displays in the closing stages of the season must pile pressure onto the underfire Swede.

Within five minutes of the restart, Rafael van der Vaart’s neat turn and finish pulled Real level at the Rosaleda. That goal put Malaga on the verge of trouble with Valencia being held by Tenerife, while Meme Tchite’s double for Racing seemed set to seal their safety and Xerez fell behind at Osasuna before rapidly equalising.

Barca strolled the second half, adding an imperious third after an hour when Messi turned home his 33rd league goal after brilliant work from Toure on the right. The mesmeric Argentinian added his second with thirteen minutes remaining to equal the record mark of 47 goals in all competitions set by the Brazilian legend Ronaldo.

FC Barcelona: worthy champions.

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