Barca's title harder than it seemed

Updated: 2013-05-13 07:20

By Agence France-Presse in Madrid (China Daily)

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 Barca's title harder than it seemed

Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo from Portugal reacts during a Spanish La Liga match against RCD Espanyol at Cornella-El Prat stadium in Cornella Llobregat, Spain, on Saturday. The match ended in a 1-1 draw, which enabled Barcelona to crown the La Liga title for the 22nd time. Manu Fernandez / Associated Press

Barca's title harder than it seemed

Despite Abidal and Vilanova illnesses, club clinches its 22nd La Liga trophy

Barcelona won its 22nd La Liga title when second-place Real Madrid drew 1-1 at Espanyol on Saturday to leave Tito Vilanova's side with an unassailable lead at the top.

Vilanova wrestled the title back from its rival in his first season since replacing Pep Guardiola at the helm, making it four league trophies in the past five years for the Catalans.

Barca was top from the opening day of the campaign, and is only the second side to have led a 20-team league from beginning to end after Real completed the same feat in 1987-88.

With Real coach Mourinho publicly writing off his side's chances of overhauling Barcelona as early as the beginning of the year, the club has been keen to stress that winning the title was not as easy as it might have appeared.

"We played such a good first half of the season that people have had the sensation it was a league that had been won a long time ago," Vilanova said earlier in the day ahead of Sunday's trip to third-placed Atletico Madrid.

"But (Real) Madrid have played an incredible second half of the season and if we had relaxed we would have had problems.

"This league means a lot. We'll have beaten what many say is the best Real Madrid side in history, the Madrid of the 100 points (last season).

"Our first objective is to win the league. There is no trophy for notching 100 points. But if it is possible, we will give it a try."

Barca has 88 points from 34 games and if it wins its remaining four matches it could surpass Pep Guardiola's club record tally of 99 when it triumphed in 2009 and match Real's league record of 100 points from last term.

In setting a La Liga best of 100 points in the 2011-12 campaign, Real also broke the league's scoring record of 107 goals set by the Whites in 1989-90 by finding the net 121 times.

Barca has scored 105 goals so far this season, and its leading scorer Lionel Messi, who netted a record 50 league goals last term, has notched 46 .

Real coach Mourinho was magnanimous in defeat when he spoke after the Espanyol game.

"First I want to congratulate Barcelona, their coaching staff, their players, directors and fans," the Portuguese said.

"They have won a league title which was ours until now and I think the least we can do is congratulate them."

Midfielder Andres Iniesta was one of the first Barcelona players to express his thoughts on Twitter.

"The best present, to turn 29 and win La Liga," the Spanish playmaker, who celebrated his birthday on May 11, said. "The prize for work across the whole year. Let's go!"

Barca put a statement on its website calling its success the "The Tito and 'Abi'" league title, referring to France defender Eric Abidal, who has had a liver transplant, and Vilanova who needed treatment for throat cancer during the campaign.

"This isn't just another league title, the club's 22nd holds a special meaning. The team had to overcome two extremely difficult setbacks," the club said.

"The illnesses of Tito and Eric left the team without a head manager and one of the best defenders on the roster for part of the season.

"The players and coaching staff, led by Jordi Roura and Aureli Altimira, met the challenge with hard work and an unflinching commitment to the club."

(China Daily 05/13/2013 page24)