Valverde’s well-organised Barca set to wrap up another crown

With Barcelona set to seal the title tonight, Dermot Corrigan wraps the LaLiga campaign

Valverde’s well-organised Barca set to wrap up another crown

With Barcelona set to seal the title tonight, Dermot Corrigan wraps the LaLiga campaign

Barca wrapping up title early

Barcelona will be confirmed as 2018/19 La Liga champions this evening if they beat Levante at home, sealing an eighth Spanish title in the last 11 seasons.

With 33 goals in 31 Primera Division games, Lionel Messi is set for a sixth career ‘pichichi’ top scorer trophy in his first year as Barca club captain. Long-time colleagues Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets and Luis Suarez have also starred as Ernesto Valverde’s well-organised and efficient side have lost just twice in their first 34 games.

“We want to finish this off now, we’ve been chasing it for many months,” Valverde said after Tuesday’s 2-0 win over Real Sociedad. “Winning La Liga is not easy.”

Atletico fall short again

Atletico Madrid have again been Barca’s closest challengers, right up to when centre-forward Diego Costa was sent off for abusing the referee at the Camp Nou last month.

Costa’s paltry return of two La Liga goals while rarely being 100% fit or focused has symbolised Atletico falling below their uncompromising best too often this season.

Costa, 30, could be China-bound, while fellow 2014 La Liga winners Diego Godin and Filipe Luis are also departing. Simeone needs to build a new side now to challenge next year.

Record disaster for Madrid

Real Madrid have set plenty of records this season, but not in a way anybody at the Bernabeu has enjoyed.

There was an all-time club best of 481 minutes without scoring a goal during Julen Lopetegui’s ill-fated three months as coach. Santi Solari was on the bench for another historic low, November’s 0-3 defeat at Eibar. Zinedine Zidane returned in March talking ominously of “changes in the summer”, which will likely see underperforming big names including Gareth Bale and Isco moved on.

Surprise challengers

Sevilla briefly led LaLiga in October, and lesser-sung sides Alaves, Real Betis, and Espanyol also featured in the top four through the autumn and winter.

This is at least partly due to recently introduced strict budgetary rules, and more balanced sharing of TV revenuem having helped level the playing field among the ‘other 17’.

The biggest surprise is Getafe, with this week’s 3-0 win over Sevilla and 0-0 draw with Madrid keeping Jose Bordalas’ hard-working side on course for fourth spot and a first ever Champions League campaign next year.

Familiar faces in relegation battle

While Huesca and Rayo Vallecano have long appeared relegation certainties, the race to avoid being the third relegated side has thrown up some old friends.

Ex-Liverpool forward Iago Aspas, now 31, returned from injury last month with boyhood club Celta Vigo in the bottom three. Six goals and four assists in five games since have brought a rapid climb towards safety.

Former Arsenal playmaker Santi Cazorla almost retired due to injury last summer, before joining his old club Villarreal. That emotional decision was questioned when the 34-year-old missed a late penalty at Betis in early April, with defeat leaving Villarreal 19th.

Cazorla’s 10th assist of the La Liga season arrived in Thursday’s 1-0 win at Real Sociedad, a third successive victory to lift the Yellow Submarine well clear of the drop zone.

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