Barça crowned Liga champions after narrow Levante win
Ernesto Valverde's side made hard work of it against the Frogs but a Leo Messi goal was enough to ensure the champions retained their title at Camp Nou.
They have may have stumbled to the line rather than cantered, by their own staggering recent standards, but Barcelona successfully defended their Liga title on Saturday night with a 1-0 defeat of Levante at Camp Nou that saw Ernesto Valverde’s side crowned on home turf with three games of the season remaining. It wasn’t pretty, nerves jangled until the 92nd minute, but in the end, despite Levante’s best efforts to delay the inevitable, the home side did just enough to win back-to-back leagues.
Barça could have, and should have, tied it up even earlier but somehow contrived to score four against Villarreal in the Cerámica yet leave with a single point, while Valverde opted to chuck on the stiffs in Huesca a couple of weeks earlier where a 0-0 stalemate was more than the champions elect deserved.
At that stage, Valverde knew that all Barça needed to do was win their remaining home games to lift a 26th Liga title and shave another layer of gold paint off the historical gap to Real Madrid’s 33. Over the past decade, Barça’s domestic dominance has been absolute, seven titles added to the Camp Nou trophy cabinet while Madrid have managed two. Saturday’s triumph was Leo Messi’s 10th Liga since he made his debut for the club and it was fitting that the Barça captain delivered the winner on the night.
Madridistas may bristle as they point to three Champions League trophies and the Club World Cup logo that Santiago Solari was so eager to attach embellished importance to before he was sacked for surrendering Real’s hold on Europe, but Zinedine Zidane summed up the difference between a league and a cup victory recently and the Bernabéu boss is under no illusions that wresting national relevance back is the “primary goal” for 2019-20.
"For me, the most important thing is LaLiga. In the Champions League you have 12 or 13 games if you win it; LaLiga is every day,” Zidane said before the 0-0 midweek draw at Getafe.
Barça almost flawless in 2018-19
This season, Barcelona have spent just four weeks away from the summit of LaLiga – two of them weeks one and two, when Sevilla and Madrid tasted the air before their oxygen ran out – and only the Andalusian side returned, spending weeks eight and 13 dreaming of the improbable.
Valverde has been questioned at times during the season but the fact remains that his Barcelona side have been beaten just twice in 38 games, by Leganés and Betis. Real Madrid, Atlético, Valencia, Sevilla and the remaining 17 sides failed to make a dent, Los Che topping the table of points nicked off the champions with two. Madrid were beaten twice; Diego Simeone’s side, Barça’s nearest challengers again, put in their place at Camp Nou once more.
Messi will claim the Pichichi award and probably the European Golden Shoe again, with only Kylian Mbappé left to stop the Argentinean. He may well regain the Ballon d’Or for the first time since 2015. Luis Suárez, his strike partner, has answered his critics once again with a vintage season after a sluggish start.
Barça are still in with a chance of the treble; four games stand between Valverde and the Holy Grail. For now, the man they call Txingurri (The Ant) has proven his resilience again. Since joining Barcelona in the summer of 2017, Valverde has won every major domestic title available. In the league, he has lost just three games across the course of two seasons.
Real Madrid fans may talk about black and white and colour - in reference to their relative lack of modern success in Europe prior to the dawn of Zidane - and can rightly now lay the archive footage to rest. But LaLiga is vivid claret and blue. The Frenchman is intent on turning a page this summer in his pursuit of the eternal rival but this chapter belongs to Barça, Valverde, Messi and Suárez.