La Liga Weekend: Barcelona Win Ensuring the League is Theirs

This La Liga Weekend was all about Barcelona ensuring there is no league, as the Spanish say. Atletico Madrid travelled to the Camp Nou to take on Barca eight points behind the defending champions. A Barcelona victory would give them an 11-point lead with seven games to go, effectively ensuring their fourth title in five years.

La Liga Weekend: Barcelona Win Ensuring the League is Theirs

Barcelona 2-0 Atletico Madrid

The game started out exactly as any neutral would’ve hoped. Barcelona were in full gear, passing and moving through the Atletico defence, but they were bending, not breaking. Through 25 minutes they had only conceded one clear chance, when Jordi Alba hit the post after a lovely ball over the top from Lionel Messi. Beyond that, it was a thoroughly even contest, however that did not last.

In the 28th minute, Diego Costa was called for a foul on Arthur in midfield, and he got up in a rage. He then proceeded to say something unsavoury about the mother of referee Jesus Gil Manzano and got himself sent off. From that moment on, the high-pressure contest we started with was different. Barcelona began their 70-minute siege of Atletico Madrid’s fabled defence.

It really was a siege; Atletico barely had a chance to have the ball in Barcelona’s half, let alone actually shoot. Barca kept the pressure on, kept trying to break down Atletico, but every time they did the great wall of Oblak stood in their way. Jan Oblak is without a doubt the best shot stopping keeper in the world and he proved it again on Saturday.

The Slovenian international made nine saves against Barca. He kept out Messi free-kicks, a really nice shot from Luis Suarez and a couple of good efforts from Philippe Coutinho. Barcelona created a good group of chances throughout this game but Oblak stopped them almost every time.

The breakthrough came in the 85th minute when Suarez wrapped his foot around a beautiful curler. It went right around Oblak and inside the far post, and that was that. The goal opened Atletico up and then Messi hesitated their defence to death for the second goal. Barcelona had eased passed their final challenge, ensuring victory in La Liga.

The La Liga Title

The win on Saturday gives Barcelona an 11-point lead with eight games still to play. It’s not mathematically ensured, but with their toughest game left being away to Alaves, it might as well be. It’s likely to be their fourth La Liga title in their last five years, and tenth La Liga of the Lionel Messi era at the Camp Nou

Once again it is an emphatic league title from the Catalan side. Coming off a dominant performance last season in the league, they had a bit of shaky start. The defence were especially problematic early on and games like Villareal in midweek show that, but since November they have been rock solid at the back, flying up the La Liga defensive rankings. No matter what conventional wisdom says, Gerard Pique is one of the world’s best centre-backs.

As is always the case with Barcelona, the attacking prowess has been there all season. Messi once again leads La Liga with 33 goals and 12 assists this season. Not to be outdone, the second leading scorer in La Liga is Luis Suarez. The two have combined for 53 La Liga goals this season; that’s more than every team in the league except Real Madrid.

Real Madrid 2-1 Eibar

Real Madrid know better than to overlook a team with the reputation of the mighty Eibar. This tiny, tiny club have stayed in La Liga because of their tenacity and ability. There is something very English about them and their route-one style of football. They get at you at full speed all the time, but there is plenty of quality in their side.

On display on Saturday was a strong combination of Barcelona loanees. Marc Cucurella has been playing really well for Eibar on the left side of midfield all season. He might even be Barcelona’s answer to the Jordi Alba back-up question. On the other side of midfield was Marc Cardona, a winger who probably doesn’t have a Barca future, but made an impression in the hearts of their fans.

Cardona was played in by Sergi Enrich after a lovely bit of combination play between Enrich and Cucurella. It was the breakthrough that Eibar dreamed of as the took a 1-0 lead at the Bernabeu. As anyone would expect, Real Madrid did not take this goal lying down, they came right at Eibar with everything they had.

Brilliant Benzema

Cue captain for the day, Karim Benzema. The Frenchman has been by far Madrid’s best player this season, always coming up big when they need him. Saturday was no exception as he was at his best all day long. It was a classic Benzema performance; all the physical tough hold-up play, and all the silky smooth tricks and passing.

His first goal was a thundering header right in between the defence from a Toni Kroos free-kick. Then the winner was a lovely curled shot cutting in from the left wing. The two goals give Benzema 26 for the season in 47 games for Real Madrid. For all the flack he got when Cristiano Ronaldo was around, they’d be in real trouble without him.

Without a doubt, Real Madrid would miss next season’s Champions League without the play of Karim Benzema. There are even some reports that he has played his way back into the club’s future plans, and rightly so. This guy is so talented, he can score with the best of them, and you only have to ask Ronaldo to know how valuable he is as a foil.

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