The league table rarely lies. So even though Real Madrid pushed Barcelona all the way to the last day of the season in an exciting finale to La Liga, there is no denying that the right team won it in the end. The Blaugrana are worthy winners; Los Blancos left it too late.
Barca led La Liga virtually from start to finish and ultimately deserve their 24th Primera Division crown. But Luis Enrique’s men were made to work harder than expected for their title by a resurgent Real as Zinedine Zidane’s side won their last 12 matches to push their rivals all the way to the tape.
That seemed so unlikely just two months ago. Ahead of the Clasico clash at Camp Nou on April 2, Barca were unbeaten in their previous 39 fixtures in all competitions and when Gerard Pique opened the scoring in the famous fixture, the Catalans were provisionally 13 points clear of Madrid.
Goals from Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo turned that game on its head and Barca’s lead was cut to seven points. Subsequent defeats to Real Sociedad and Valencia then saw the champions let both Atletico and Madrid back into the race and after Diego Simeone’s side lost at Levante in the penultimate round of matches, it was left for Spain’s two biggest teams to dispute the title.
Zidane did all that he could to win what would have been a maiden trophy as Madrid coach. The Frenchman has led his side to 17 wins in his 20 Liga games in charge, with only one defeat and two draws in that time. In the end, however, it was not quite enough.
Barca have looked tired towards the end of this season and the Blaugrana were surprisingly beaten by Atletico in the quarter-finals of the Champions League. However, Luis Enrique’s side stuck it out in La Liga, digging deep to win their final five fixtures in the Primera Division.
Led by an inspired Luis Suarez, Barca thrashed Deportivo La Coruna 8-0 at Riazor, hit Sporting Gijon for six at Camp Nou, beat Betis 2-0 in Seville, made light work of Espanyol in a 5-0 derby win and claimed the title with ease on Saturday with a 3-0 success at Granada.
Barca have now won six trophies since the arrival of Luis Enrique as coach in the summer of 2014: two Liga titles, one Champions League, one Copa del Rey, a Uefa Super Cup and a Club World Cup. And that could be seven next Sunday as the Catalans face Sevilla in the final of the Copa at the Vicente Calderon as they seek a domestic double to add to the treble they picked up last season.
So although they are lacking strength in depth and ended up winning La Liga by a single point from Madrid, this Barca team remain the dominant force in Spain and with some intelligent signings in the summer, Luis Enrique’s side can avoid the fatigue that has hurt them at the end of this season.
With Zidane seemingly certain to stay in charge now and lead Madrid from day one next season, Los Blancos look likely to fight Barca for the title from the beginning next year instead of having to lift the team mid-term as he did upon arrival in January to replace the unpopular Rafa Benitez.
For Madrid, winning La Liga was always a big ask with a coaching change half way through the season, the team already behind in the title race and morale at a low, but Zidane’s side deserve credit for chasing Barca all the way to the end in a race that reignited interest in a competition that had looked all but over in March.
In the end, however, the Blaugrana are worthy winners. Luis Enrique’s men recovered from their dip in form last month to take the title like true champions and remain the team to beat in Spain. Congratulations, Barca!