Monday 19 March 2018

Messi magic lifts Barca to second successive title

Barcelona made it seven trophies out of nine in the Pep Guardiola era as they overcame a nervy opening to thrash Real Valladolid, relegated as a result, at the Nou Camp last night and seal a second successive league title on an exciting last day of the Spanish Primera Division season.

Having won all of the first six competitions they had disputed since the arrival of coach Guardiola, the Catalans were left with just the Primera Division title to fight for at the end of this campaign, following a quarter-final exit in the Copa del Rey and a semi-final elimination in the Champions League recently.

Luis Prieto's own-goal set Barca on their way after 27 minutes, and Pedro's fine strike all but sealed the title shortly afterwards, before Lionel Messi added a second-half brace to secure matters as Madrid slipped up in Malaga.

Guardiola's side took a while to find their rhythm in a nervy opening quarter of an hour. Messi showed unusual signs of frustration as he punched the turf in anger after sliding a low shot just wide of the target halfway through the opening period. By then, though, the home side had found their feet and looked likely to score at any moment.

And they did so soon after, albeit thanks to some good fortune and a helping foot from Prieto, who sliced Pedro's venomous low cross into his own net. Valladolid had only themselves to blame, as they should have been ahead after four minutes, when Manucho shot weakly with the goal at his mercy and saw his effort blocked by Carles Puyol following a bad error from Barca 'keeper Victor Valdes.

Four minutes after the first goal, they were staring at relegation, while Barca were heading for the title. The second goal was a wonderful team effort.

Messi dribbled away from his pursuers in midfield, played a clever one-two with Yaya Toure, and continued his fine run before freeing Pedro, who kept his cool to slide a low finish through the legs of Valladolid keeper Jacobo Sanz.

Barca were two up and with Madrid losing in Malaga, only a calamity could see the Catalans lose the title now. And as the Catalans sought to make the title safe, they looked, inevitably, to Messi.

The Argentina forward was on hand to poke home the third after a superb run from Toure, who won the ball in the final third, nutmegged his marker and squared to give his team-mate the simplest of finishes for what was his 46th goal of the season. One more would see him level with Ronaldo as Barca's highest goalscorer in a single season, and it duly arrived with 15 minutes left.

Messi took the ball around Pedro Lopez and slid a measured shot low into the far corner to make Barcelona safe.

Barca ended on a record total of 99 points, three ahead of Madrid, who could only draw in Malaga.

Irish Independent

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