Barcelona edge past Atletico Madrid to win La Liga

Lionel Messi's 41st league goal of the season gave Barcelona a 1-0 win at Atletico Madrid.
Lionel Messi's 41st league goal of the season gave Barcelona a 1-0 win at Atletico Madrid. Reuters/Andrea Comas

Barcelona claimed the Spanish championship Sunday for the 23rd time with a tense victory over the champions Atletico Madrid. Star player Lionel Messi was the hero with the only goal of the game.


It was revenge for the Catalans who lost the title on the final day of the 2014 season with a 1-1 draw against Atletico.

There was no such heartbreak at the Vicente Calderon stadium in Madrid.

Lionel Messi steered in the winner in the 65th minute. It was his 41st league goal of the campaign and it gave coach Luis Enrique his first Spanish title in his inaugural season at the Camp Nou.

Enrique's charges could emulate the team of former coach Pep Guardiola. Barca play the final of the Copa del Rey against Athletic Bilbao on 30 May. On 6 June they take on Juventus in the Uefa Champions League final at the Olympiastadion in Berlin.

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The Barcelona front three of Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez have been lauded for their prowess in the surge towards a possible treble. They've amassed 115 goals between them in all competitions.

But a subtle shift in midfield with the introduction of Ivan Rakitic for Xavi Hernandez has also been key to the success, according to Jonathan Wilson, editor of the football magazine The Blizzard.

"Rakitic is a more direct player than Xavi Hernadez. Rakitic looks for that forward pass much more instinctively and that risks losing possession but he's happy to take that risk in a way that perhaps Xavi wasn't," he says.

What that evolution has brought is passes hurtling towards Messi, Neymar or Suarez who can all run at speed with the ball.

"Barcelona have become this dribbling team," said Wilson. "You think of them as masters of the pass. They still are with their back seven but they have that front three and now it's become far more about getting the ball to the front three and seeing what happens."

Barca had a trophyless 2013-2014 campaign under the Argentine coach Tata Martino but 45-year-old Enrique has transformed the club's fortunes with - at least - the La Liga trophy.

The reputation of the former Barca player will be burnished if he can lead the side to more silverware this season. His players could also flourish as they escape from the shadow of Guardiola who steered them to 14 trophies in four seasons.

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