History was on Barcelona’s side. Never had they squandered first place when leading the title race ahead of the final day of the season. Real Madrid, a single point behind, never had won the League when in second place with one game to spare. And, as the day unfolded and the final whistles were heard in Galicia and Granada, history did not change and neither did the positions of the teams in the standings. Barcelona remained on top to become champions yet again.
In the end it was only by a point, the most slender of advantages. Yet, there is consensus from both sides of the divide; Barca were worthy champions.
Zinedine Zidane, whose arrival midway through the campaign did have the desired effect at Madrid, was one of the first to acknowledge, “Barcelona deserved to win La Liga.”
Predictably, his opposite number, Luis Enrique, agreed too, “It was a deserved title which shows that the team knows how to bounce back from a bad spell.”
Enrique emphasised an important point. Barca really did come back from a bad spell, but ‘horrid’ is perhaps a more fitting term. At one point, it really did seem that their season was quickly unravelling. Worse still, it all started with Madrid at Camp Nou, the first game following the passing of Johan Cruyff – the man credited with developing Barca’s playing philosophy and one who transformed the culture of the club doing so. On March 24, the legend sadly passed away and the effects were deeply felt. In one way, perfect timing then to honour the Dutchman with a win over their fiercest rivals.
It was not to be. Madrid ran away with a victory and with 10 men too. After having gone a record 39 games unbeaten in all competitions, the Catalans had been defeated at home. Three days later, they made amends by beating Atletico Madrid in the Champions League and maintaining their hopes of an unprecedented treble. But then they lost again in the League, this time to Real Sociedad. And then Atleti eliminated them from the Champions League. Then it was Valencia’s turn as they inflicted a second consecutive loss on them at home.
The team that could not stop winning all of a sudden could not stop losing. Testament to this group of players, however, they responded and rebounded. An emphatic 8-0 drubbing of Deportivo La Coruna – a record-equalling away win – was following by a 6-0 drubbing of Sporting Gijon. In just two games, La Blaugrana scored 14 goals. In their remaining three games, they scored another ten, again without conceding a single goal.
Apart from their little bad spell, this is a team that blitzed their opposition more often than not. In exactly half of their League games, Luis Enrique’s side scored three goals or more. Most of these were scored or created by a front three that were again breath-taking to watch at times. Neymar, Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez notched 90 goals between them and 44 assists, contributing a total of 86 per cent of all Barca’s League goals. Simply incredible statistics.
And, for a change, it was not Messi who stood out the most. This season, the plaudits go to Suarez. For the first time since 2009, the Pichichi will be awarded to a player other than Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo. The Uruguayan outdid them both in 2015-16. A final day hat-trick saw his tally reach 40 – a career best and an achievement most of us never thought possible until Ronaldo and Messi came along. Now, it is almost the norm, at least in Spain and if you play for either Madrid or Barca.
Despite Suarez and his team’s achievements, there was the feeling in Barcelona that this was the season where winning the treble for a second consecutive time really was a possibility. This, of course, did not happen and has left a little concern amongst the side’s faithful. Though their Champions League campaign is over, they can still claim a double next weekend in the Copa del Rey final, an achievement most clubs and fans would be satisfied with. Perhaps, if it was not for their transfer ban, there may have just been that little bit extra in the tank to see them accomplish the seemingly impossible. Of course, this is just speculation and we will never know.
What we do know however is that this Barca team continue to confound, inspire and mesmerise. Xavi Hernandez once claimed that they never receive the recognition they deserve and sometimes, perhaps, we do just need some reminding. Gerard Pique did just this when the title was won on Saturday as he explained, “this is a historic time for the club. This is a unique generation of footballers with loads of talent and who are achieving things that have never been done before.”
To think that, between 1960 and 1991, Barca only won two Spanish League titles and in the time since, they have won 14, including six of the last eight, just shows how far they have come in the modern era. It proves how right Pique is. Many, especially those at the club, would put much of this success down to one man, Cruyff.
Fitting it is then that since his time on the bench, it is 14 titles won – the number Cruyff made famous during his playing days. Even more is it fitting that the player who was the driving force in this season’s success was Suarez, who like Cruyff first made a name for himself at Ajax.