Three straight for Messi-inspired Barça
Barcelona stayed on their perch for another year, making it three championship wins in a row despite relentless pressure from Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid, who forced the conquering Catalans to break the 90-point barrier yet again.
“It’s incredible”. That was Pep Guardiola’s verdict on the 96 points his side amassed in finishing top of the heap again, just three points less than they managed in their record-breaking previous season and an indication of the high standards required to win La Liga. On top for the last 25 rounds, Barcelona conceded only 21 goals in all, three less than they did in 2009/10, and posted a new league high of 14 away wins.
The best of the rest
Real Madrid did their best to make life difficult for Barça, suffering just two defeats more than the champions and drawing one game less, while no other team scored more than their 102 goals. Under Mourinho, the men in white produced some convincing displays and won the Copa del Rey to boot, their highlight of the four clásico meetings in April. They paid dearly for their mistakes in the title run-in, however, and with the championship lost turned their attention to helping Cristiano Ronaldo become the season’s top scorer and, with it, the leading marksman in Spanish league history.
No fewer than 21 points separated the top two from third-placed Valencia, who adjusted well following the departures of stars David Villa and David Silva. Joining them in the UEFA Champions League next season will be Villarreal. Tied on 58 points in fifth, sixth and seventh were Sevilla, Athletic Bilbao and Atletico Madrid respectively, all of whom will contest the UEFA Europa League. For the Bilbao side that represents quite an achievement following the uncertainty of recent years, while Atleti, who promised much after winning the Europa League and UEFA Super Cup last term, were their usual inconsistent selves and will now be looking for a new coach to replace the outgoing Quique Sanchez Flores.
Down at the bottom, meanwhile, a record number of points were needed to avoid the drop, with 17th-placed Mallorca clinging on to top-flight status with an unprecedented 44 points, and a total of six sides going into the final day with the threat of relegation still hanging over them.
The bottom three
Almeria and Hercules were already down before the final day, with Deportivo eventually joining them, having spent the last 20 years in the elite. Relegation brings to an end a glorious era for the Galician side, which began with the great Depor team of the mid-1990s and brought a maiden league title in 2000 as well as three Spanish Super Cups and two Copa del Rey successes, the second of them famously spoiling Real Madrid’s centenary celebrations at the Bernabeu. Relegation was no less a bitter pill for Hercules, who were expecting a better return on their investment in star players Nelson Haedo Valdez, David Trezeguet and Royston Drenthe.
One side to escape the drop in style were Malaga, who looked likely to go down at one stage only to be rescued by some astute signings and the sure hand of Chilean coach Manuel Pellegrini. Back in La Liga again, Martin Lasarte’s Real Sociedad endured a contrasting experience, making a strong start and then sliding down the table in the second half of the season and only just avoiding a prompt return to the second division.
One player to enjoy a deflating season was Diego Forlan, who failed to hit the heights he achieved in winning the adidas Golden Ball at South Africa 2010 and the European Golden Shoe in 2008 and 2009.
Stars of the show
Mourinho and Guardiola were the two dominant figures of the campaign, crossing swords on the touchline and in the press room and sticking firmly to their contrasting footballing philosophies to serve up a fascinating championship duel. Those philosophies were represented on the pitch by Lionel Messi’s magical footwork and Cristiano Ronaldo’s insatiable desire for goals.
The Trofeo Zamora, awarded to the goalkeeper letting in the fewest goals, went to Victor Valdes for the fourth time running. His average of 0.50 goals conceded per game is second only to the 0.47 achieved by Deportivo’s Liano in 1994. The Barcelona custodian needs to win the trophy one more time to pull level with Zamora record holder Antoni Ramallets on five. Making their mark up front were Alvaro Negredo, who got back in among the goals, and Malaga’s Julio Baptista, who was rejuvenated on his return to Andalucia. Special mention should also go to Espanyol’s cultured playmaker Ivan de la Pena, who has retired from the game after suffering a succession of injury problems.
Did you know?
The city of Madrid will have four teams in next season’s championship. Joining Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid and Getafe, who narrowly escaped relegation, are Rayo Vallecano. Real Betis are also back among the elite, with the final place to be decided in play-offs featuring the next four teams, although Barcelona B, who currently lie fourth, cannot be promoted as they are the reserve side of a top-tier team.
40 - The unlikely number of goals scored by Cristiano Ronaldo this term, making him the season’s leading marksman with plenty to spare and the all-time single-campaign top scorer in the 80-year history of La Liga, all despite missing four games. The Portuguese’s two goals against Almeria on Saturday took him past the previous record of 38, jointly held by Telmo Zarra, who reached that tally in 30 appearances for Athletic Blibao in 1950/51, and Mexican striker Hugo Sanchez, who matched it in 35 games for Real Madrid in 1989/90.
1st FC Barcelona, 96 points (Champions League)
2nd Real Madrid, 92 (Champions League)
3rd Valencia, 71 (Champions League)
4th Villarreal, 62 (Champions League)
5th Sevilla, 58 (Europa League)
6th Athletic Bilbao, 58 (Europa League)
7th Atletico Madrid, 58 (Europa League)
18th Deportivo La Coruna, 43 (Relegated)
19th Hercules, 35 (Relegated)
20th Almeria, 30 (Relegated)
Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid - 40 goals
Lionel Messi, Barcelona - 31
Alvaro Negredo, Sevilla - 20