x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Primera Liga: The best was not enough for some teams

Barcelona excelled but missed out on Europe's big prize and Atletico Madrid lost battle for local bragging rights, writes Andy Mitten.

Barcelona achieved much without head coach Tito Vilanova, centre left, for three months and key player Eric Abidal, centre right, for almost the entire season. Albert Olive / EPA
Barcelona achieved much without head coach Tito Vilanova, centre left, for three months and key player Eric Abidal, centre right, for almost the entire season. Albert Olive / EPA

Champions

The 7-0 Uefa Champions League semi-final aggregate defeat to Bayern Munich still dominates everything at Barcelona.

Espanyol fans were only too happy to remind their neighbours with a giant flag during last week's derby. Barcelona want to forget, learn and look forward, and yesterday unveiled the Brazilian forward Neymar at Camp Nou.

The drubbing deflects from another excellent league season for the Catalans, who reached 100 points for the first time in their history, matching the total set by Real Madrid last season with the same 32 wins, four draws and two defeats from 38 matches.

Barca scored 115 goals, one more than last season and another club record.

Tito Vilanova's side won the league back from Madrid at the first attempt, despite his three-month absence, most of it in New York for cancer treatment.

The treatment is continuing and there are doubts about whether he will still be in charge next season. If he is not, he can look back with some pride. Yet the standards were set so high by his predecessor, Pep Guardiola, after three Champions League triumphs in the past seven years that few cules will rate him as outstanding.

Maybe not, but nor is this team finished, as many have suggested because they lost to Bayern. Barcelona and Madrid remain a huge pull to the world's best players.

Madrid

Madrid's season was summed up by a fan placard on the stands in Saturday's final league game: "Mou – thanks for nothing".

A harsh assessment of the Chelsea-bound coach Jose Mourinho's tenure, but then second equals failure if you are Madrid or Barca.

Madrid's 85 points would have been enough to win the league every year between 1998 and 2008. But the bar has been raised. The contest was all but over before the halfway stage, when Barca opened up a 13-point lead.

Madrid, the only team in any major European league to stay undefeated at home in all competitions, went out of the Champions League in the semi-finals and lost the Copa del Rey final in the Bernabeu to Atletico Madrid, who had not beaten their neighbours this century.

European places

Atletico were excellent, following up their Europa League success in 2012 by demolishing Chelsea in the European Super Cup.

They occupied second place in La Liga until the final third of the season. A first Copa del Rey since 1996 meant two trophies and Champions League qualification.

Fourth-place Real Sociedad are delighted too.

Sociedad – who only field Basques or foreign players – will play European football for the first time in a decade. Reaching the Europa League would have been viewed as a success. The Champions League is a dream.

Valencia started poorly, sat 13th in December, changed their coach and improved. Seven wins in 10 games saw them rise to fourth before a final day defeat at Sevilla dropped them to fifth.

Malaga's highlights were in Europe, but sixth place represented another solid season.

Whether they can play in Europe depends on successfully overturning their ban for financial irregularities.

Real Betis finished seventh, their highest finish in eight years, earning them a first crack at European football in seven.

Mid-table

Rayo Vallecano excelled to make eighth place on a tiny budget, while far wealthier Sevilla won just one of their 19 matches on the road, the worst league away performance. Better home form took them to ninth.

Getafe, the worst-supported team in the league, finished mid-table, while Levante reached 40 points – widely viewed as the safety mark – then switched off, waking from their slumber with a last-minute winner in the final game at Bilbao's San Mames.

Athletic Bilbao were poor, finishing 12th. Fernando Llorente, their star of 2011/12, will finally leave. They move into a new stadium in August. Espanyol started the league appallingly, replaced coach Mauricio Pochettino with Javier Aguirre and rose up the table to finish 13th, with Aguirre signing another contract.

Real Valladolid came up via the play-offs and will be delighted with 14th place, if not their poor form in last three months.

Drop zone

Granada and Osasuna were both satisfied to stay up, while promoted Celta Vigo, bottom at the end of April, were ecstatic at survival on the final day of the season at the expense of neighbours Deportivo La Coruna, plus Mallorca and Zaragoza, who went down on an emotional final day.

Player of the season

Lionel Messi scored 58 goals for Barcelona in 2012/13, including 45 in the league to win his third Pichichi – the top scorers’ award. It was five less than his previous season, but still the second-highest in the history of the Spanish top flight and 11 more than when he won his first Pichichi in 2010. Injury meant that Messi faded at the most crucial point of the season.

Matches of the season

Real Sociedad 3 Barcelona 2, the game which ended Barca’s 19-match unbeaten start to the season. It was edged by Real Sociedad 4 Valencia 2, at the start of May, which gave the Basques a five-point cushion over Valencia in the race for fourth place and raised hopes of a Champions League spot as they came from behind with two goals in the last five minutes. La Real then lost that lead, but clinched fourth on the final day.

Team of the season

Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois (Atletico Madrid)

Defence Carlos Martinez (Real Sociedad), Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid), Diego Godin (Atletico), Andres Guardado (Valencia)

Midfield Andres Iniesta (Barcelona), Isco (Malaga), Ruben Castro (Betis)

Forwards Radamel Falcao (Atletico), Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Cristiano Ronaldo (Madrid).

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