They might not have repeated last season’s historic treble, or proved they were the best club side ever, as some had speculated not long ago (this writer included), but Barcelona were nonetheless crowned La Liga champions following Saturday’s 3-0 win at Granada. Credit the Catalan club for holding their nerve in a down-to-the-wire season finale that saw three teams in with a shot for the title just a few days ago. This was of course after Barcelona had seen the double-digit lead they held over Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid evaporate during a run of disastrous results in April, that included a loss to Real in El Clasico and being knocked out of the Champions League by Atletico.
“We had to win this title twice,” admitted Barça center back Gerard Pique speaking to the Guardian. And, win it twice they did, thanks to a five-game winning streak that saw them knock in 24 unanswered goals.
Barça must hand the lion’s share of credit for their resilience to Luis Suarez. The Uruguayan has been their best player over the course of the season and particularly, over the difficult run-in at the end of the season.
With 40 La Liga goals on the season, Suarez is also the winner of this year’s Pichichi award for most goals scored – the first time in seven years the honor has gone to someone other than Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo.
The former Liverpool man was on-song again at the Estadio Los Carmenes on Saturday, netting a hat trick against Granada to seal the deal on Barça’s 24th La Liga title. It was also the Catalan club’s sixth in eight years, making it nearly a decade now that Barcelona has had the edge domestically over rivals, Real Madrid.
Real Madrid Resilient Under Zidane
But while there are no trophies for second place, Real Madrid must be given credit for chasing Barcelona down to the wire and finishing just a single point behind them; thanks to a 12-game winning streak.
Manager Zinedine Zidane must certainly be given credit for the club’s turnaround. After taking charge following the dismissal of Rafa Benitez, the Frenchman led the club back into the title race, with no other team in Spain claiming as many points as Madrid did in the latter part of the season.
There is also the small matter of a Champions League final appearance against city rivals Atletico in two weeks time – the second between the two clubs in three seasons.
With the benefit of an off-season to bed-in with his methods and to chop and change the team’s playing roster to suit his personal vision – in as much as Real Madrid managers are allowed to do this – Zidane’s Real Madrid look to be a formidable force heading into next season.
Before then, they have a chance to be crowned European champions for the 11th time in their history and look as well poised to challenge Barcelona’s growing hegemony as they have at any time in the past half-decade.