Barcelona won the Spanish league title for the first time since 2019 on Sunday with four games to go into the season. Despite scarcity of funds, the Catalan giants invested heavily in the summer, sacrificing future income in order to bolster the squad for a run at major silverware.
Domestically, Xavi Hernandez-managed Barcelona extended their gap over arch-rivals Real Madrid to 14 points after beating Espanyol 4-2. In the Copa del Rey, they were beaten by Real Madrid over two legs in the semi-finals. The young side won the Spanish Super Cup in January.
We take a look at the key aspects of Barcelona’s 27th LaLiga title success.
Watch: LaLiga champions Barcelona’s celebrations halted by angry Espanyol fans
LaLiga: Barcelona clinch 27th Spanish league title with Espanyol rout
Over the years, Barcelona have been known for their attacking flair, from Ronaldinho to Lionel Messi, but this year’s success has been based on a mean defence.
The Blaugrana have conceded only 13 goals in 34 games, far fewer than any other side.
Andreas Christensen, who arrived on a free from Chelsea, has slotted in perfectly, while his centre-back partner Ronald Araujo has slotted himself as one of the best defenders in the world.
Alejandro Balde has phased out veteran left-back Jordi Alba and despite playing out of position, Jules Kounde has thrived to cover for weakness at right back.
When they were injured, Barcelona struggled and had to bring in now-retired Gerard Pique and Marcos Alonso at the heart of defence. It resulted in a calamity of errors and an exit in the group stage in the Champions League.
Behind the solid defence is goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen who has found confidence and form, with Barcelona yet to concede at home from open play all season. The only exception being an Araujo own goal against Real Madrid.
Barca have kept 25 clean sheets this season, with the all-time league record 26, set by Deportivo La Coruna in 1993-94.
Deportivo and Atletico Madrid share the record for fewest goals conceded in a 38-game season, 18 — a figure Barcelona could beat.
Lewandowski quickly up and running
Robert Lewandowski was Barcelona’s marquee summer arrival from Bayern Munich and the Polish forward hit the ground running.
He leads the Pichichi race with 21 goals (Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema is second on 17 goals), many of which came in a superb run of form before the World Cup. The 34-year-old netted 13 goals in an 11-match spell between August and October. The €45 million prize tag felt justified.
But then the goals dried up. He scored just eight league goals in 18 games after the World Cup. He drew blank in nine matches.
Lewandowski scored a brace against Espanyol to help Barca seal their title triumph and extend his tally to 31 goals in 42 games across competitions.
Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti terms the league as “the competition of consistency” and he’s right. Defending champions Real are still alive in the UEFA Champions League and won the Copa del Rey earlier this month over Osasuna.
Despite smashing Barcelona 4-0 in the second leg of the Copa semi-final, Real Madrid may be the best team on their day in cup competitions. But Barcelona have proven more reliable more often, and opened up vast points differential over their rivals.
As Real Madrid stumbled after the World Cup, Barcelona took over and didn’t give an inch until the league was all but decided. Ever since losing 3-1 to Real Madrid in October last year, Barca have been on a rollicking run. They went on a 13 game unbeaten run before dropping all three at Almeria.
In the reverse leg of the Clasico, Barca won 2-1 to shut down any league opportunities.
On the whole, Barcelona’s Champions League and Europa League exits stung, but allowed Xavi’s side to focus on conquering the Spanish league.
Change in system
Barcelona shifted from their typical 4-3-3 system and added a lively Gavi as a left winger in January.
The youngster would come inside and offer Barca a fourth man in the midfield with an aim of keeping possession. Aided by the system, Barca won the Spanish Super Cup and went on a seven-match winning streak in the league.
However, it did result in fewer chances for Lewandowski and in effect fewer goals. That saw criticism of Xavi’s system but it allowed him and the team to control the game better.
Big game shift
Under Ronald Koeman and Quique Setien, Barca struggled to beat Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid in LaLiga. With Xavi coming in, that has changed.
In his first partial season in-charge, Xavi’s Barca beat both last season and he managed it again this season.
The Catalans won both home-and-away against Atleti this season while losing one and winning one against Real Madrid.
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