Lionel Messi’s Barcelona won its fourth Spanish soccer championship in five years, and 22nd in total, after second-place Real Madrid drew 1-1 at Espanyol.
Barcelona, for whom four-time world player of the year Messi scored a La Liga-leading 46 goals, has an unassailable seven-point advantage with Real having just two games to play. Barcelona has lost two of its 34 matches this season, while Real was beaten in five of 36 games.
It’s the first league title for coach Tito Vilanova after Barcelona was routed 7-0 last month by Bayern Munich over two games in the Champions League semifinals. That result led to questions about whether the most successful period in the Catalan club’s 144-year history is coming to an end.
Vilanova, 44, was promoted from assistant coach when Pep Guardiola quit after last season. Vilanova spent two months mid-season being treated for throat cancer in New York, handing over control to Jordi Roura. Defender Eric Abidal was cleared to play in February after a liver transplant.
It’s one of the “most special” of Barcelona’s 22 titles because of the complications players and coaches have overcome, club president Sandro Rosell said, according to the team website. “If I had to engrave a name in the cup it would be Abidal and Tito,” he said.
Rosell, a former Nike Inc. marketing executive who became Barcelona president in 2010, said it had been an “excellent” season even after the reverse against Bayern.
“This year, we’ll go down as the best team in Spain and among the best four in Europe,” Rosell said.
Barcelona and Real Madrid, soccer’s richest clubs by sales, have won the last nine La Liga titles between them as previous winners such as Valencia and Deportivo La Coruna that mainly rely on domestic sales to bankroll their squads are hampered by Spain’s six-year economic slump.
Deportivo, the 2000 champion, is facing relegation after having revenue seized to pay back taxes, while 2002 and 2004 winner Valencia has had to trade its top players as it struggles to pay debts to lender Bankia SA.
Real, coached by Jose Mourinho, last season won its record-extending 32nd La Liga title. Guardiola will take over as Bayern Munich coach next month after a sabbatical.