Barcelona: After scoring the only goal against Levante which clinched Barcelona’s 26th La Liga title on Saturday, Lionel Messi, wearing jersey No. 10, wrote another page in the history books by becoming the club’s first player to win 10 league titles. Messi’s first Barca title came in 2005 when he was 17 years old and he was also a fringe player when he collected his second La Liga medal a year later.
But he has been the talisman behind their last eight triumphs, which Barca’s players celebrated by wearing T-shirts with the slogan ‘Eight out of 11, the extraordinary seems normal’. The player from Rosario, who began the game on the bench, led the victory Barcelona needed to celebrate another title with its fans against a rival that never gave up.
Without Messi, who is headed for the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League next week, Barca started out determined to assure their La Liga championship in the first half. The Argentine’s teammates did not hold back. They ruled the ball and pressured Levante all the way. They had one chance after another and if Levante did not end the first half trailing on the scoreboard it was thanks to Aitor Fernandez.
Faced with the Barca whirlwind, the Basque goalkeeper was a lifesaver for his teammates. Already at minute 2 he kicked away a shot by Luis Suarez, but then Philippe Coutinho came back with some brilliant moves. However a superb and constant intervention by Aitor kept the score at 0-0.
The ex-Liverpool player kept up the attack in every way possible – with a long low shot, a drive into the area with a pass from Arthur Melo and a somewhat weak header. But in every case he came up against the rival goalkeeper, and then it was the crossbar that bounced back his powerful penalty kick at five minutes from halftime.
A shot by Suarez, Barcelona’s most active player at the time, was also repelled by the visiting keeper. Levante, always on defense, was looking for the chance of a counterattack, but both Pique and Lenglet halted its timid attempts to move into their area.
Coutinho was the star of the first half then Valverde substituted him in the second half. Enter Messi, as active as Coutinho had been in the first half. Despite the stout Levante defense, the Argentine moved through it as easily as a fish through the water.
But Levante survived. In the second half it looked for more speed with the entry of Morales, but the chances to score failed to materialize. The Camp Nou team was getting impatient and Dembele went on the attack but lost the ball, which was fortunately controlled by Vidal with his head.
The ball reached Messi who, from inside the area, blasted a left-footer past Aitor to make the score 1-0 at minute 61. And the first shouts of “Champions!” broke out. A minute after Messi’s score, Borja Mayoral sought the tie, but in a one-on-one, Ter Stegen rose up and blocked the shot with his chest.
With the La Liga title locked up and a finalist in the Copa del Rey, Barca can now concentrate on the UEFA Champions League semi-final against Liverpool next Wednesday at Camp Nou. And they can still dream of winning all three of those grand titles this year.
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