Barcelona clinched the Spanish title for the 23rd time as Lionel Messi’s strike secures a 1-0 victory over Atletico Madrid last night.
This article titled “Barcelona clinch title with Lionel Messi magic against Atlético Madrid” was written by Sid Lowe at Vicente Calderón, for The Guardian on Sunday 17th May 2015 19.35 UTC
A year after Atlético Madrid went to Barcelona and won the league title Barcelona went to Atlético Madrid and won it back. As the final whistle went Barcelona’s players gathered in a circle, substitutes and squad players sprinting to join them, and danced while Gerard Piqué began spraying the Catalan cava. Luis Enrique, the manager who spent much of the season questioned but is now 180 minutes away from leading them to a treble, was not there; he was in the dressing room instead. “This gives us huge satisfaction,” he said. “But I prefer private celebrations.”
Barcelona, winners of the league, Copa del Rey and Champions League in Pep Guardiola’s first season, may become the only European club ever to complete two trebles – and in two debut managerial campaigns. This was Luis Enrique’s first title as manager but it may not be the last. His side have three games left: one more in the league against Deportivo La Coruña, which no longer matters, and then two finals. They face Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey and a week later face Juventus in the Champions League . “We have to do everything we can to win those games,” the coach said.
Outside, his players were enjoying their moment. At the end, Atlético’s players briefly clapped their fans and then headed down the tunnel, leaving the pitch to their visitors. And although some of the home supporters at the Vicente Calderón chanted “Juve! Juve!”, most generously applauded the champions. In doing so, they returned the respect afforded them 364 days ago at the Camp Nou and recognised the talent of Lionel Messi and his team-mates.
Messi’s superb goal had secured victory and taken Barcelona to their fifth title in seven seasons, the seventh of Messi’s 10-year career. It arrived in the second half six minutes after news of a Cristiano Ronaldo goal 600 kilometres away alerted Barcelona to the fact that a draw would not be enough to clinch the title there and then. Ronaldo would eventually score a hat-trick, his seventh this season, but Messi’s solitary strike was sufficient. As usual, it was not just about the goal but another breathtaking performance. You can kick Messi but you cannot stop him.
An Atlético victory would have aided their city rivals Real but Diego Simeone had insisted his team would not lie down; instead they would challenge “for every ball as if it was the last,” fighting for “every millimetre on the pitch”, and so it proved. Atlético were playing for third place and direct Champions League qualification and the opening minutes showed their intent. Claudio Bravo made two superb saves – first from José Giménez’s header, then from Antoine Griezmann’s close-range shot. The fact that the flag had gone up for the latter did not diminish the speed of reaction or the threat.
Soon, though, Barcelona took control; everything that happened now happened at the north end where around 200 visiting fans sat high in the stand. Between the 10th minute and the 20th, Messi had four attempts, each more dangerous than the last. That spell ended with a header that came back off Juanfran’s hand only for the referee to ignore appeals for a penalty, but it was not the end. Ten minutes after that Messi curled a free-kick off the bar from a tight angle.
With Luis Suárez out with a calf strain, Pedro then tried an overhead kick but missed the ball and Dani Alves drew a save from Jan Oblak from 30 yards. Barcelona had not yet found a way through but, back in Catalonia, nor had Real Madrid against Espanyol. Up in a glass-fronted box Carlo Ancelotti was puffing away on a cigarette. It was 0-0 there and 0-0 here; stay this way and Barcelona would be champions. It didn’t, but the outcome was the same.
On 59 minutes Cristiano Ronaldo put Madrid into the lead at Espanyol. Madrid had scored; Barcelona had to do so too and the response was swift. Six minutes later they did score. Messi paused as he sought the right option, then played the ball into Pedro and dashed into the box. Pedro returned it to him, Messi took a touch, neatly rolling the ball forward under his studs, and shot low and hard into the far corner.
Espanyol then equalised against Real through Christian Stuani but goals from Marcelo and then Ronaldo, twice more, put Madrid back in the lead. Yet, if there were nerves when Neymar missed a glorious opportunity to wrap it up, made by Messi, ultimately it did not matter. Messi’s goal ensured that the league title is Barcelona’s.
Man of the match Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
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