There was a sense of weakness when Ernesto Valverde took over but successive La Liga titles have made Bara look untouchable
Not long after their 2-0 victory in Vitoria late on Wednesday, with Barcelona four weeks from the finish and three points from the title, Ernesto Valverde was asked if he would like to win the league the following evening or the following Saturday. What I like, he said, is that I get asked that question.
It was done, again. And it was done early, again. Barcelona had beaten Real Madrid, beaten Atltico Madrid and beaten everyone else except Athletic Club and Valencia. Now they had beaten Alavs too, affording them the luxury of choice: they could take the title with a win over Levante three days later or they could be handed it with an Atltico defeat against Valencia the next day, watching it on TV and no one wanted that. They didnt want to be handed it in the car on the way to work three days after that, either. Id rather win it at home with our fans, Sergio Busquets said, speaking for everyone.
The next morning, having boarded a plane at 1am, climbed into bed at 3am and climbed back out again a few hours later, all the players rolling in for training at San Joan Desp wanted their nearest challengers to win. Or at least get a draw, Luis Surez said. Which they did: on Thursday Atltico defeated Valencia 3-2, on Saturday afternoon they beat Valladolid 1-0, setting everything up, and on Saturday Barcelona beat Levante 1-0 to become league champions and the only remarkable thing about it was that they marked the occasion by actually getting the trophy. Even getting it in the same season is something, but there was Lionel Messi, lifting it into the April air.
April. At the end of the weekend on which the title race officially ended the way everyone had long known it would, Barcelona stood nine points ahead of Atltico, 18 ahead of Madrid. Over the last two seasons, their aggregate lead over their closest challengers if those are the right words stands at 23 and 35 points respectively. It was Messis first league title as captain. For Arturo Vidal it was his eighth in a row, but thats another story. Gerard Piqu and Busquets were celebrating again: this is Barcelonas eighth in 11 years and they have been there for all of them. Add seven Copa del Rey titles, with another final to come, and its a decade of domestic dominance never matched.
As they went around the Camp Nou doing a lap of honour, they wore T-shirts, made for the occasion. Eight of 11, they read, the extraordinary thing is that it seems normal. Valverde wore one too and it could have been written about him.
There was something almost comfortingly predictable about Barcelona winning the league with Messi coming on from the bench to score the winning goal, his 34th of the season, one for every match, one for every major trophy he has won. There was something fitting too: this was his league, so, so far ahead of the rest, so much better than anyone anywhere, again. Barcelona have won 26 leagues in their entire history; Messi has won 10 of them. Only Paco Gento has won more. ASs cover called it the dcima: the 10th; Marca went for the 10th for the number 10. This league is Messis, said the cover of Sport. Asked how much Messi had to do with Barcelonas hegemony, Valverde smiled and joked: Not much. He added: Theres always one man above everyone else and thats Messi.