Real prevail in Spain's titanic tussle
La Liga served up yet another two-horse race this season, as Real Madrid ended three years of domination by Barcelona to win their 32nd title. Barça had the consolation of taking the individual honours, with Lionel Messi amassing a record 50 goals to top the scoring charts by four from Cristiano Ronaldo, and Victor Valdes conceding fewer goals than any other keeper in the league. Yet while Jose Mourinho remains firmly in command at the Bernabeu, it is all change at the Camp Nou, with Josep Guardiola having called time on his tenure.
As the top two were breaking all records, another league was taking place a whole 39 points behind the champions.
Valencia once again made third place theirs, earning them a place in the UEFA Champions League, while Manuel Pellegrini’s Malaga, whose galaxy of stars gelled to good effect, will go into the competition's preliminary round. Newly crowned UEFA Europa League champions Atletico Madrid took one of the other two remaining European places alongside season revelations Levante, who never ceased to amaze throughout only their second season back in the top flight.
Bilbao’s young lions
Picking a standout performer among the young players that have fired Marcelo Bielsa’s Athletic Bilbao to the Europa League and Copa del Rey finals is no easy task. Oscar de Marcos, Iker Muniain and Ander Herrera have all made significant contributions to a team that may have had its ups and downs in the league but has a big future ahead of it.
Thibaut Courtois (Atletico Madrid)
The best keeper in the league after Valdes and Iker Casillas. The young Belgian had a hard act to follow in replacing David de Gea but exceeded expectations.
A habitual presence in Spain’s national youth teams, the midfielder proved a key signing for Malaga and now has his sights set on London 2012.
100: Despite sealing the title with two games to spare, Real Madrid kept their foot on the accelerator and ended the season with 100 points - the highest tally ever recorded in the Spanish league. Jose Mourinho’s side drew four and lost just two of their 38 matches.
21 April 2012: After trimming Real Madrid’s lead from ten to four points, Barcelona entertained their old rivals at the Camp Nou with designs on cutting it to one and blowing the title race wide open with four games remaining. As it happened, however, Barça suffered their only home loss of the season, leaving their championship aspirations in tatters.
4 March 2012: Real Zaragoza scored twice in the final six minutes to complete a dramatic comeback at home to fellow strugglers Villarreal and collect three ultimately crucial points. Occupying the relegation zone for 27 matchdays and bottom of the table for 17, Los Maños were seemingly down and out in February only to engineer an amazing escape act, winning their last four games to avoid the drop on the final day of the season.
13 May 2012: After being drawn in arguably the toughest group in the UEFA Champions League and rubbing shoulders with the stars, Villarreal suffered relegation in the final seconds of the season. Out of the danger zone going into the final game of the season against Atletico Madrid at El Madrigal and with their destiny in their own hands, the Yellow Submarine was sunk at the last. Radamel Falcao’s late header put them on the precipice and when Raul Tamudo struck an injury-time goal to give Rayo Vallecano victory over Granada, Villarreal toppled over. Six years after almost making the Champions League final, they now join Sporting Gijon and Racing Santander in the second tier.