La Liga Jornada 38 Review: Barcelona Defends Their La Liga Crown

Once Lionel Messi scored his club record-tying 34th goal of the season in the 76th minute to increase the lead to 4-0, the 98,772 Culés at the Camp Nou, save for a few hundred Real Valladolid die-hards, began to chant the song that every team wants to hear at the end of the season, “Campeones, campeones, ¡Olé, olé, olé!”  For the final fifteen minutes, the procession commenced on the pitch.

Bojan Krkic came out for Thierry Henry, likely Henry’s final appearance for Barcelona because of his increasingly diminished role with Pedro Rodríguez and Bojan ahead of him in the pecking order.

Dani Alves departed in the 80th minute for Zlatan Ibrahimovic, a player who epitomizes the cliché that there are two halves of a season.  Despite Ibrahimovic’s struggles in the last three months, the supporters gave Ibrahimovic a nice round of applause.

The heartiest plaudits, however, rained down on Pedro when Pep Guardiola took him out in the 86th minute for Andrés Iniesta.  An infrequent contributor last season, Pedro rose to the occasion nearly every time Guardiola called his name this season, and after fifty-one appearances and twenty-three goals in all competitions, Pedro made himself a fixture as one of the starting three forwards for FC Barcelona.

Referee Miguel Ángel Pérez Lasa whistled for fulltime at the ninety-minute mark, and Barcelona won its fourth La Liga crown in six years and their twentieth overall.

Despite the 4-0 scoreline, Valladolid accounted well for themselves and displayed the aggression on both ends of the pitch early that Javier Clemente-led teams always show.  Ever the entertaining yet obstinate manager during press conferences, Clemente verbalized the fighting spirit that Valladolid would have against Barcelona with colorful imagery:

“We will not go like lambs to the slaughter.  I would rather be a bull, which gives its all and dies angrily.  Let us see whether we will die or not, but if we do, we will do it with our boots on.  We have nothing left to fear.  We must go there bravely.”

Nearly invoking the spirit of Franklin Delano Roosevelt with his impassioned plea, Clemente sought the desire, will, and all of those wonderful intangibles from his players that would be necessary to achieve any sort of positive result against Barcelona.

In a bizarre twist of fate, Mr. Clemente, one of the most hated enemies of Real Madrid, could have aided Madrid’s faint hopes of winning La Liga if Valladolid could prevent Barcelona from earning the three points.  Real Madrid had to beat Málaga and pray for Barça not to win in order to secure their 32nd championship.

Besides winning two La Liga crowns in 1983 and 1984 with Athletic Bilbao on the last day of both seasons with Real finishing second both seasons, he had a reputation of excluding Real Madrid players in favor of Basque players during his tenure as Spanish national team manager in the 1990s.  No one player felt this cold shoulder more than Real Madrid legend and current Getafe manager Míchel.

Míchel was part of the illustrious Quinta del Buitre quintet of homegrown players for Real Madrid in the 1980s and early 1990s that won two UEFA Cups and five consecutive domestic titles, and Míchel made himself a fixture on the Spanish national team.  He earned sixty-six caps to his name when Clemente became Spain’s manager in 1992, and despite his continued excellent play with Los Blancos in the prime of his career, Clemente never called him up for Spain.  At a young twenty-nine years, his international career ended prematurely.

Clemente favored Barcelona right wing Ion Andoni Goikoetxea over Míchel, and while Goikoetxea featured the hard-working and industrious characteristics that Clemente loved and coveted, he did not have nearly the skill or creativity that Míchel brought to the table.  In defense of Goikoetxea, he did win the Don Balón award for Spanish player of the year in 1991 and was a significant member of Johan Cruijff’s Dream Team that won four consecutive La Liga crowns and the 1992 European Cup over Sampdoria, but for Clemente to leave Míchel completely off Spain’s squad and not even grant him a seat on the substitute’s bench stung Míchel and continues to sting him to this day.

Despite the history, the Madridistas would instantly forgive Javier Clemente Lázaro if he prevented the Barcelona machine from rolling to one last victory.

The “thank you” letters from Real Madrid, however, nearly needed to be written for Víctor Valdés, as his penchant to show his footballing skills virtually handed Valladolid the opening goal in the fourth minute.

Receiving a simple back pass from Gerard Piqué, Valdés’ first touch on the ball got away from him, and eying this unexpected opportunity, Valladolid left back Antonio Barragán pounced on the ball.  Valdés tried to recover from his error by clearing it to safety, but Barragán deflected his clearance as he slid in to tackle the ball away from Valdés, and the ball fell right into the path of Manucho just inside the top of the penalty box.  Whether Manucho felt he needed merely to guide it toward the empty net or the bounce prevented him from striking the ball cleanly, he hit the ball with his shin, but it was heading to the back of the net.

Because Manucho’s did not crack his shot with the greatest conviction, there was a slight chance that a Barcelona defender could knock his shot away from goal, and who other than the captain and defensive stalwart, Carles Puyol, to race into the box and commit to a diving clearance that sent the ball to the touchline.

When Luís Prieto deviated an innocuous Pedro cross into his own net in the 27th minute to gift Barça the 1-0 lead, the title was destined to be retained by the Catalunyans for another season.  Valladolid could not get into the game as Barcelona played their possession style, and the “plan” that Clemente championed and rightly refused to reveal prior to the match failed miserably.

Lionel Messi scored twice and assisted Pedro in the backbreaking second goal, but the man of the match award must go to Touré Yaya, who took on the responsibility of playmaker because of Xavi Hernández’s suspension.  After the first fifteen to twenty minutes, where they could not penetrate the Valladolid and resorted to long-distance efforts, Yaya controlled the match from the midfield on both offense and defense.

Nothing encapsulated Touré Yaya’s impact as the conductor more than Barça’s third goal that prevented any thought of a miracle comeback by Valladolid.  After receiving a pass from Sergio Busquets, Yaya nutmegged Raúl Rodríguez Navas and then hurdled Henrique Sereno’s sliding challenge as he charged into the box, where his cutback pass from the endline found Messi, and with a wide-open goal, he rolled it in for the 3-0 advantage.  Touré Yaya will likely leave in the summer because Busquets has succeeded him as Barça’s holding midfielder, and if this eventually becomes the final appearance for Yaya in a Barcelona uniform, he went out with one of his best performances as a Barça player.

Even though Real Madrid only managed a 1-1 draw with Málaga, the spirit and gusto of the Real players dropped considerably when they found out what was happening at the Camp Nou, so one cannot assume that this result would have occurred if the Barcelona – Valladolid match were much closer.  FC Barcelona, however, did not want to have the championship decided on Real Madrid’s result against Málaga, and they merited the La Liga trophy in typical Barça flair in their 4-0 drubbing of Real Valladolid.

Ninety-six points in a season is a ridiculous amount, the most points accumulated in the history of La Liga prior to this season.  Unfortunately for Real Madrid, one other team eclipsed that point total in the same season.  While the 2009-10 FC Barcelona club did not defend their Champions League trophy, ninety-nine points in the league and a +74 goal difference (98 for and 24 against) are accomplishments that will be on par with any that Barcelona has ever achieved.  With all of their young talent under contract for the next several years along with the economic firepower that the club possesses, László Kubala’s five cup season of 1952, Cruijff’s “Total Football” of the 1970s, and Cruijff’s Dream Team of the 1990s could take a backseat to this current Barcelona incarnation.

It also helps that Lionel Messi declared that he could never see himself playing for Real Madrid or at any other club.

Fueras de Juego

– Another upheaval in the Bernabéu seems likely as they failed to win any silverware this season.  Manuel Pellegrini deserves another season to mold this team, but with José Mourinho possibly available in the summer (although he would employ a more pragmatic style that the Madridistas and the Real boardroom hated when Fabio Capello WON the league in 2006), Real’s failure to advance past the Round of 16 in the Champions League (although the previous seven Real managers did not pass this stage), their debacle against Alcorcón in the Copa del Rey (although Real does not really care about this competition and had not won this since 1993), and second-place in the league to Barcelona (although they amassed an obscene ninety-six points and scored 102 goals), Pellegrini may not get the chance to improve on what any other team would consider a great season.  Fabio Capello was right when he compared managing Real Madrid to living in a goldfish bowl.

– Getafe cruised to sixth place and a Europa League berth when they defeated Atlético Madrid’s B-side 0-3 at the Vicente Calderón on Saturday evening.  The players and the colchoneros in the stands celebrated their Europa League triumph and looked forward to the Copa del Rey final against Sevilla on Wednesday rather than worry about a league match that did not matter to them, and Getafe could not have been happier to take advantage.

– RCD Mallorca felt the ecstasy and agony of football in a span of a couple of minutes.  After dismissing Espanyol 2-0 at the ONO Estadi, they watched the final minutes of the Almería – Sevilla match on the big screen at the stadium.  At the time, it was 2-2, and if that result held, Mallorca would be in the Champions League for finishing fourth in the league.  In the third minute of stoppage time, however, Sevilla youngster Rodri twisted himself around to score past Esteban Suárez and send Sevilla into the Champions League.  The juxtaposition of Mallorca captain Nunes’ despair with the champagne bottle standing right behind him showed how close they were to the bright lights of the top European club competition.

– Racing Santander saved themselves from relegation with a 2-0 victory over a more-than-willing Sporting Gijón, and Barça blasted Valladolid 4-0, but the other three teams in the relegation battle (Xerez, Tenerife, and Málaga) were involved in intense matches where one goal in any of those matches would have ramifications for the others.  Xerez needed to beat Osasuna and hope that two other teams involved in the relegation fight would not earn a point.  Xerez could only muster a 1-1 draw against Osasuna, so Néstor Gorosito’s reclamation project fell just short of an all-time great escape.

That left two teams for one spot in La Liga.  Málaga had the head-to-head tiebreaker over Tenerife, so Tenerife needed to better Málaga’s result for salvation, except for one caveat: if Valladolid, Málaga, and Tenerife were tied on points for 17th place and another season in the top flight, Tenerife would stay in La Liga because they scored more goals than the other two teams amongst matches against them, the fourth tiebreaker.  As complicated as that sounds, a Tenerife loss would not necessarily doom them.

Tenerife played as though they were doomed.  Tenerife keeper Sergio Aragoneses must have felt like those body-shaped silhouettes at a shooting range because Valencia pelted his goal with shot after shot after shot.  Luckily for Aragoneses, David Villa, David Silva, and Juan Mata did not start for Valencia because their clinical finishing would have converted some of the fourteen chances at goal.  Miraculously, it was 0-0 late into the match, and Nino flew down the right flank unmarked, heading toward Miguel Ángel Moyà’s goal.  Hedwiges Maduro’s incredible speed, however, caught up to Nino in the box, and the opportunity was gone.

Alexis scored in the second minute of stoppage time for Valencia to give Valencia the 1-0 win, but with the other matches falling Tenerife’s way, only a Málaga result against Real Madrid would drop them to the second division.  Málaga did the seemingly impossible and got the draw at home to revive their stay in the first division for another season.

– This final weekend of the season became swan songs for three that have served their respective professions to the highest degree: Joseba Etxeberria, Rubén Baraja, and referee Manuel Mejuto González.  Mejuto González’s last match will be on Wednesday as the referees the Copa del Rey final, but his La Liga career ended on Saturday in the Athletic Bilbao – Deportivo La Coruña match.  Etxeberria and Baraja both won, and both could not contain their emotions, as they were both given heroes’ exits by their clubs.

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