Barcelona 2015/16 La Liga winning season will surely be remembered as the year of Luis Suarez.
Barca began their season winning 1-0 at Athletic Bilbao, with a tricky game decided by Suarez’s close range finish. And they finished it with his hat-trick in a 3-0 final day win at Granada to see off Real Madrid’s late challenge.
Madrid even led the ‘virtual table’ on Saturday, as Cristiano Ronaldo scored twice in a 2-0 win at Deportivo La Coruna. Zinedine Zidane’s team won their last 12 games to push Barca right to the line - but the Catalan outfit deservedly held on for a 24th Spanish crown.
It was fitting Suarez scored on Saturday - clinically converting each of his three chances during the game. The Uruguayan finished the season with 40 goals in all to claim La Liga’s ‘pichichi’ top scorer and Europe’s golden boot.
The total included purple patches just when Barca needed him most. There were 10 goals in seven La Liga games during Lionel Messi’s injury layoff in the autumn. More recently, after one point from four games had raised alarms at the Camp Nou,
Suarez netted 14 times in five straight wins to clinch the title.
“We’ve been suffering, under pressure during the last games, but this team is made to win titles,” Suarez said on Saturday.
“We’ve had a great year. I’m happy for all my teammates who helped me.”
In his first full season as a Barca player, the ex-Liverpool man was the first ‘pichichi’ winner not called Messi or Ronaldo since 2009. Suarez also managed a La Liga leading 16 assists as he linked expertly with fellow South American superstars.
“That has been the constant - goals from Luis Suarez have allowed the team to get over things like Messi’s injury, Neymar’s problems and other issues,” said Marcos Lopez on El Larguero radio show. “Suarez has been the protagonist of this league.”
“The Uruguayan has been the big hero of the season,” agreed Santi Gimenez in AS. Marca’s Sunday cover called it ‘La Liga de Lucho’, a pun on his nickname which means ‘battler’ in Spanish.
Such an abrasive side has got Suarez in trouble before - but Barca need his aggressive edge.
Without their number nine’s pretty unique mix of lethal finishing and fierce competitiveness, they would not have won this season’s title.
Another player who stood up for Barca this season has been centre-back Gerard Pique, who has attracted attention off the field due to his controversy-stirring social media use, but who has been a solid presence at centre-back all year.
Pique said after Saturday’s game the current team had shown great character in coming through a dodgy spell to hold off Madrid’s late charge. “We’ve had to win it twice - when we were eight or 10 points ahead we had it won then,” he said.
“Then there was a moment when it seemed lost. Many times before we’ve been sunk by our own pessimism. But this generation has changed, we stand up, and you can trust in us.”
That dip in April saw Barca exit the Champions League in the quarter-finals to Atletico Madrid, and dash hopes of a historic ‘double treble’.
Some in the Spanish capital claim that either Atletico or Real will be the season’s real winners after the Champions League decider in Milan on May 28.
But blaugrana coach Luis Enrique was having none of that at his post-game press conference on Saturday.
“We played very well over the full season, and the most consistent team wins the title. You cannot win La Liga while having a bad season. We’ve won six of the last eight titles. We know how difficult it is to win - other teams find it a lot harder.”
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