Barcelona were crowned Spanish champions for the eighth time in eleven years this weekend. They retained their nine point advantage over Atletico Madrid by beating Levante and are now a staggering eighteen clear of Real Madrid with Los Blancos losing five times as many league games as the Catalans.
There have been a few wobbles though in a season when many expected the Madrid clubs to close the gap. Here was how Barça won La Liga 2018/19:
Dembele Winners ensure positive Start
?[SPORT] | Ousmane Dembele is the most decisive player in La Liga.
?After scoring in 3 consecutive games, against Valladolid, Huesca and Real Sociedad, Dembele can claim that he is the most decisive footballer in La Liga. pic.twitter.com/401K8MsKGK
— BarçaTimes (@BarcaTimes) September 16, 2018
Barcelona got their title defence off to a pretty impressive start by winning all of their opening four games. Although they fired eight past Huesca, their early performances weren’t fully convincing though particularly on the road. They edged past Valladolid 1-0 on the dodgiest of pitches on match-day 2 before coming from behind to see off Sociedad 2-1 in September. Both games were won by Second Half goals from Ousmane Dembele, the source of considerable negative media attention at the time. Those goals were key though and offered an early indicator that he was going to be a big part of Barça’s season.
The Wobble – Barça go 4 without Victory
Leganes 2-1 Barcelona
— Standard Sport (@standardsport) September 26, 2018
Barcelona failed to win any of their league games between match-days 5 and 8 with Ernesto Valverde’s rotation policy failing to deliver. They suffered just their second ever defeat in La Liga under Valverde in September as lowly Leganes stunned the Catalans at Butarque. Real Madrid were beaten at Sevilla on the same night though and neither Madrid club could really take advantage of Barça’s blip with the derby clash between Atleti and Real ending level on match-day 7.
Messi-less Barça thrash Lopetegui’s Madrid
Barcelona shrugged off the loss of the injured Lionel Messi to rout arch-rival Real Madrid 5-1 in El Clasico with Luis Suarez scoring a hat-trick in the Nou Camp https://t.co/kjUSMmZcjP pic.twitter.com/H6bhjV0qft
— CNN (@CNN) October 28, 2018
As far as making statements of intents go, hammering your biggest rivals 5-1 with your star player watching on from the sidelines is a pretty good one. Luis Suarez scored a hat-trick as Los Blancos were humbled at Camp Nou with Leo Messi sidelined through injury. The result spelt the end for Julen Lopetegui with Real Madrid already in danger of slipping out of title contention with a club record goal drought having pushed the former Spain boss closer to the exit door even before the Clasico humiliation.
Betis Win at Camp Nou, Sevilla go Top
⚽ 20′ | Barcelona 0-1 Real Betis
⚽ 34′ | Barcelona 0-2 Real Betis
⚽ 67′ | Barcelona 1-2 Real Betis
⚽ 71′ | Barcelona 1-3 Real Betis
⚽ 79′ | Barcelona 2-3 Real Betis
⚽ 83′ | Barcelona 2-4 Real Betis
⚽ 90′ | Barcelona 3-4 Real Betis
— SPORF (@Sporf) November 11, 2018
Despite the big win over Real Madrid, there were still many doubts lingering over Barcelona in November. Their frailties were again exposed as a brilliant Real Betis won 4-3 at Camp Nou. Barcelona looked to be on their way to successive defeats a fortnight later as they trailed 1-0 at the Wanda Metropolitano going into the final minute. However again Ousmane Dembele popped up with a vital goal to deny Diego Simeone his first league win over the Catalans. Neither side would end the weekend in top spot though as Pablo Machin’s Sevilla beat Valladolid the following day to go 1st heading into December.
Defensive Improvements & 8 Straight Winter Wins
Lenglet ? ?? pic.twitter.com/VwXN4YQmIq
— C?️pitano Messi (@douseyblaugrana) April 21, 2019
That would be as good as it got for Sevilla though with the Andalusians winning just two of their next thirteen league games to fall well out of contention. December and January would be the months when Barcelona really broke clear of the rest. They regained top spot with victory over Villarreal on match-day 14 and wouldn’t relinquish it again. The win over the Yellow Submarine was the start of eight league victories in a row and significantly four straight clean sheets. Barça had gone eleven league games without a clean sheet immediately prior to that with an increasingly assured Clement Lenglet forming a solid partnership with Gerard Pique, another key factor in their eventual title success.
Life in the Title Race? – Resurgent Real close the Gap
Real Madrid have pulled away at Atletico thanks to Gareth Bale’s goal.
— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) February 9, 2019
Real Madrid were starting to show signs of life at last though with Karim Benzema inspiring what was now Santi Solari’s side to five straight league wins culminating in a 3-1 victory away to Atletico Madrid on match-day 23. That victory saw them move above their city rivals into 2nd. Barcelona meanwhile were held to draws in their opening two games in February by Athletic and Valencia, both of whom were recovering well from poor starts.
Magical Messi Hat-Tricks in Seville & another Clasico Win
Lionel Messi’s last six games for Barcelona:
⚽️?️ vs. Rayo Vallecano
⚽️⚽️?️?️ vs. Lyon
⚽️⚽️⚽️ vs. Real Betis
⚽️⚽️ vs. Espanyol
⚽️ vs. Villarreal
⚽️ vs. Atletico Madrid
Even when you do everything right, he still can’t be stopped. ??? pic.twitter.com/3KMPiLB3O2
— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) April 6, 2019
The life in Real Madrid’s title challenge didn’t last long though. They followed up their victory over Atletico with a shock home loss against Girona. A disastrous week soon followed in which they were effectively knocked out of all three competitions with Barcelona winning at the Bernabeu in La Liga and the Copa del Rey.
Either side of those games, there were two simply sublime hat-tricks from Leo Messi. Both came in tough away games in the city of Seville as Barcelona won 4-2 at the Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan and 4-1 at the Benito Villamarin. A Catalan derby win over Espanyol followed to make it six straight league wins over what was on paper a really tough part of their season.
Doubt removed as Barça end 10-man Atleti’s Resistance
#Atletico Madrid striker Diego #Costa refused to train on Thursday after being told his LaLiga club would be fining him for a verbal outburst in their recent 2-0 defeat by #Barcelona , Spanish dailies including AS, El Pais and Marca reported. pic.twitter.com/wr4qIl0Hbb
— SportsMonks (@Sportsmonks) April 20, 2019
Atlético Madrid responded to their Madrid derby defeat by winning six of their next seven league games without conceding to at least maintain slim hopes heading into their trip to Camp Nou on match-day 31. Victory would have cut the gap to just five points but Diego Costa’s colourful rant at referee Jesús Gil left the visitors with more than an hour to see out with ten men. They put in a strong rear-guard action but any doubt as to the destiny of the title was removed when Suarez and Messi fired in late goals within a minute of one another.
Barcelona win La Liga with 3 Games to Spare
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) April 27, 2019
Barcelona finally sealed the deal and got their hands on another league trophy on Saturday as they beat Levante 1-0 at Camp Nou. Again there were a few nervy moments but fittingly it was Leo Messi who clinched the title win with his 34th league goal of the season.
It’s still just three defeats in La Liga for Barça under Ernesto Valverde in just shy of two full seasons. There were a few more wobbles this time around early doors as opposed to last season when they topped La Liga after every match-day besides the opening two. However it has still been a remarkably comfortable title triumph again and there will be plenty of soul-searching across Madrid this summer as they figure out how to close what is a significant gap.
Article via Mark Sochon – Contact: marksochon(at)hotmail.co.uk | @marksoc1 on Twitter