Guardiola joy as Barca wrap up La Liga crown

BARCELONA eased to their third successive La Liga title with a low-key draw away to Levante last night to retain their crown with two games to spare.

The party kicked off in the 28th minute when Seydou Keita headed Pep Guardiola’s side in front to cap a stylish attacking move.

However, in-form Levante put a dampener on proceedings when on-loan Manchester City striker Felipe Caicedo capitalised on a Gerard Pique error to secure a draw.

The point was enough to wrap up the league title ahead of Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid, and they now turn their attention to the May 28 Champions League final showdown with Manchester United.

“Each league title has been tough to win,” Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola said last night.

“Now it is time to enjoy it.”

Argentinian star Lionel Messi echoed his manager’s sentiments. “It’s taken a lot of hard work to be champions and more so against a great rival like Real Madrid. Now we have to enjoy it.”

Barca unsurprisingly dominated possession throughout without pressing too hard.

A few optimistic crosses were cleared at either end before Xisco Nadal produced the first chance of the game for Levante, volleying from 20 yards but seeing his effort go wide in the 17th minute.

In the 28th minute the opener came and went Barcelona’s way. It did so in some style, too, as Xavi Hernandez’s superb chip forward was met by the advancing Keita and the Malian headed perfectly over Gustavo Munua with the goalkeeper caught in no-man’s land.

To their credit Levante responded well. Juanfran and Valdo both got forward to put crosses in while Caicedo forced Victor Valdes into a smart save with a shot from inside the box.

Eric Abidal, in his first start since returning from surgery to remove a liver tumour, fired a tame effort from distance at Munua in the 37th minute.

Off-colour striker David Villa’s barren spell continued as he shot wide from the left and five minutes before the break, Levante were level.

Out-of-form defender Pique got himself in a muddle and when his failure to clear left the on-rushing Victor Valdes stranded, Caicedo was on hand to capitalise.

Lionel Messi was threatening but it was fringe man Ibrahim Afellay who looked the champions’ most threatening weapon.

Messi opened the second half with a shot blocked by Nano before Afellay sent a darting 30-yard effort wide.

The Catalans looked to have regained their lead brilliantly when Messi’s trademark nimble footwork saw him dart between a crowd of defends and beat Munua, only for his delicate effort to hit the post.

Messi had the bit between his teeth and sent a shot wide of the right-hand post in the 72nd minute.

But from there on in the game fizzled out as Barca played out the game and enjoyed the celebrations that greeted the final whistle.

LEVANTE: Munua, Juanfran, Nano, Ballesteros, Javi Venta, Pallardo (Larrea 82), Valdo, Torres, Iborra, Xisco Nadal, Caicedo (Stuani 75).

BARCELONA: Valdes, Dani Alves, Pique, Mascherano, Abidal (Fontas 62), Xavi, Busquets, Keita, Afellay, Messi, Villa (Pedro 86).


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