Messi-led Barça too much for Real
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Barcelona’s dominance in Spain shows no sign of ending just yet. At the end of a record-breaking season, during which they amassed a total of 99 points, the Catalans shrugged off the challenge of big-spending Real Madrid to collect their 20th league title. Even after last campaign's unprecedented haul of six trophies, Barça’s hunger for silverware remains undiminished. relives a momentous campaign in La Liga.

The top two
In successfully defending their title, Barcelona lost just one game [against bogey team Atletico Madrid] and drew six. In any normal season they would have won the league with plenty to spare. But this was no normal season. Revitalised under Manuel Pellegrini, Real Madrid pushed the champions all the way, losing only four games and drawing three, and were only a point adrift of Barça going into the final game.

Los Merengues even outscored their eternal rivals, notching 102 goals to their 98, although Los Azulgranas had the division's top scorer in Lionel Messi, who struck 34 goals, including three hat-tricks. At the back it was Barcelona who came out on top, with Victor Valdes conceding only 24 goals to Iker Casillas’s 35. For the second season running the Catalan custodian let in fewer goals than any of his counterparts in the league.

“I’d like to express my admiration for the players and the coach of Real Madrid,” said a magnanimous Guardiola after his side had beaten Valladolid 4-0 to claim the title. “My congratulations to them. They have brought dignity to the game and to this league.”

Guardiola’s words came at the end of a campaign in which Real had undergone yet another extensive revamp. As well as a new coaching team, the club drafted in eight new players, a transition that was not without its mishaps. While churning out results in La Liga, Los Blancos suffered an embarrassing aggregate defeat to third-tier outfit Alcorcon in the Copa del Rey and then had their hopes of contesting the UEFA Champions League final at the Bernabeu dashed by Lyon. Yet despite those cup exits and the two losses at the hands of Barcelona in the league, Real were a force to be reckoned with from start to finish, narrowly missing out on a notable championship triumph.

European places
No less intense was the fight for the European berths. Though Valencia had made sure of third well before the final day, Sevilla only clinched fourth and a ticket to the Champions League play-off round thanks to an injury-time winner against Almeria in their last game. That late strike condemned luckless Mallorca, the revelations of the season, to the UEFA Europa League, where they will be accompanied by a Getafe side that impressed under the tutelage of Real Madrid legend Michel.

Not untypically, Atletico Madrid enjoyed their fair share of highs and lows. Making a dreadful start to the league campaign, they then crashed out of the Champions League at the group stage. Handed the job of resuscitating their season, Quique Sanchez Flores pulled Los Rojiblancos away from the relegation zone and engineered a spirited run to glory in the Europa League, their first European trophy in 48 years. With Wednesday’s final of the Copa del Rey against Sevilla still to come, Atleti have somehow fashioned one of their most successful seasons ever.

The big names
Never one to single out any of his players, the victorious Guardiola lavished praise on his entire squad. “I’d like to thank these players because they are truly unique,” he said in the wake of their title win. Once again, the foundation of Barcelonas success was their nucleus of home-reared luminaries, with cantera graduates such as Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Carles Puyol, Messi, Valdes, Sergio Busquets, Gerard Pique, Pedro and Bojan Krkic safeguarding the club’s honourable traditions.

While Messi showed the way for the league champions, Cristiano Ronaldo proved Real’s driving force. Holding the fort in the absence of the injured Kaka, the Portuguese inspired many a comeback with his charisma, burning ambition and insatiable appetite for scoring goals.

Jesus Navas performed a similar role for Sevilla and also proved he could handle the pressure of representing his country. After declaring he was finally ready to face the rigours of international competition, the winger was called on by Spain coach Vicente del Bosque and quickly replicated his club form for La Roja and booked his place in their squad for South Africa 2010.

Last but not least, the deadly duo of Sergio Aguero and Diego Forlan were Atletico Madrid’s guiding lights, although rookie goalkeeper David de Gea also made a name for himself, claiming the Atleti No1 jersey and earning widespread acclaim in the process.

Ups and downs
Newly-promoted Tenerife and Xerez both made rapid returns to the second division, where Valladolid will join them. But with the Liga Adelante not reaching its conclusion until 20 June, it will be some time before their replacements are confirmed.

At a glance
Top three

1. Barcelona, 99 points
2. Real Madrid, 96
3. Valencia, 71

Top scorers
34 goals - Lionel Messi
27 - Gonzalo Higuain
26 - Cristiano Ronaldo

The stat
99 – Barcelona’s tally of points, a Spanish top-flight record. The previous high was the 93 collected by Fabio Capello’s Real Madrid in 1996/97, when La Liga featured 22 teams rather than the current 20.