Five matches that won La Liga for Barcelona
Barcelona were confirmed as La Liga champions for the fourth time in five years on Saturday after defeating Levante 1-0.
Barca have wrapped up the title with three games to play as they sit nine points ahead of Atletico Madrid, against whom they also own a superior head-to-head.
Here, AFP Sport picks five games that were key to the Catalans being crowned champions for the 26th time in their history.
Sets the tone
Barcelona 5-1 Real Madrid, October 28
The first Clasico in 11 years without Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo marked the end of an era while also bringing to a close Julen Lopetegui’s turbulent three months as Real Madrid coach.
Lopetegui was sacked the following day after Luis Suarez had ran riot in the injured Messi’s absence, scoring a hat-trick at the Camp Nou that set the tone for the rest of the season. Madrid’s inferiority was laid bare and Barcelona would never look back.
Sevilla 2-4 Barcelona, February 23
A rare wobble in February had given hope to the chasing pack while prompting concerns about the team’s form and Messi’s fitness. The Argentinian, after suffering a thigh strain, had scored only one goal in four games, with Barca managing just a single win in five.
But both silenced the doubters at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, where Messi scored his 50th career hat-trick in a mesmeric 4-2 victory that put Barca back on track, just in time for a double-header against Real Madrid.
In sight of the title
Real Madrid 0-1 Barcelona, March 2
A quirk of the calendar ensured that Spain’s greatest rivals would do battle twice in four days, once in the second leg of the Copa del Rey semi-final and then again in the league.
After knocking Madrid out of the Cup, Barca effectively eliminated them as challengers in La Liga too, Ivan Rakitic’s delightful chip widening the gap to 12 points.
Santiago Solari lasted only 10 more days as Madrid coach while the Catalans had overcome one of the larger hurdles in their run-in. A six-game winning run put Barca in sight of the title.
Last hopes dashed
Villarreal 4-4 Barcelona, April 2
Some believed, optimistically, the title race could have life after Barcelona dropped two points away to Villarreal, allowing Atletico the chance to reduce the deficit to five if they could win at the Camp Nou four days later.
But the feeling was not one of disappointment. Instead, Messi and Suarez had scored in the 91st and 93rd minutes at the Estadio de la Ceramica to complete a dramatic comeback, making the draw feel like a victory and sending Barca into their top-of-the-table clash with a spring in their step.
Only a matter of time
Barcelona 2-0 Atletico Madrid, April 6
Diego Simeone said his Atletico side had to win to have any hope but instead they were dealt a knock-out blow as Diego Costa was sent off early before Suarez and Messi, again, scored late.
Costa’s dissent to referee Gil Manzano cost him an eight-match ban and his team dear, as Atleti were reduced to an hour of defending when they needed to attack. Victory sent Barca 11 points clear with seven games left, deeming their 26th La Liga triumph only a matter of time.