Lionel Messi fittingly sealed Barcelona’s 26th La Liga title on Saturday by coming off the bench to score the goal in a 1-0 win over Levante in front of a jubilant Nou Camp crowd, who celebrated a remarkable eighth league crown in 11 years, Reuters reports.
Barca’s captain decided the game and the title in the 61st minute as he received a header from Arturo Vidal, effortlessly freeing himself from two defenders with his right foot before using his left to plant the ball into the far bottom corner.
He had started on the bench along with Sergio Busquets as Ernesto Valverde had one eye on Wednesday’s Champions League semi-final first leg at home to Liverpool. But the coach inevitably turned to his talisman with the game goalless at halftime, despite the best efforts of Philippe Coutinho, who had numerous attempts on goal and clanged the crossbar before being withdrawn for Messi.
The Argentine needed just over a quarter of an hour to have the desired effect, lighting up the stadium with his 34th league goal of the season in 32 appearances.
With 13 assists to his name as well he has his footprints on more than half his side’s 86 goals.
Cries of “champions” rang out from the 91,000 supporters crammed into the Nou Camp but Barca’s players dropped their concentration and Jose Luis Morales should have levelled for the visitors but blasted over the bar. Levante also hit the post in the final stages as Barca were left clinging on to their narrow advantage deep into stoppage-time but relief came when they cleared a corner and the final whistle sounded. Messi, who became the first player to win 10 La Liga crowns with Barca and only the third player from any club to do so, hoisted the trophy into the sky before joining his team mates and their children on a lap of honour.
Barca lead the standings on 83 points after 35 games, an unassailable nine clear of second-placed Atletico Madrid with three matches left because they have a superior head-to-head record this season.
Valverde’s side have now taken the first step in their bid to win a third treble in a decade.
After their Champions League semi-final against Liverpool when they will be bidding to reach the final of Europe’s premier club competition for the first time since 2015, Barcelona play Valencia in the Copa del Rey final on May 25.