x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Real Madrid and Barcelona are both worthy winners

Between them, they have won 191 of 222 points on offer this season, dropping just 31. Both would be worthy champions.

Barcelona's 3-2 victory at Sevilla on Saturday was a mighty leap towards Spain's Primera Liga title, but Real Madrid's 5-1 win over Athletic Bilbao ensured the title will not be decided until the final round of matches this Sunday, unlike last season when the Catalans wrapped up the title with two games to spare. Barca's players celebrated on the Sanchez Pizjuan pitch as if they had won the league. With a one-point lead over Real, a better head-to-head record and a final home game against 18th-placed Real Valladolid, their confidence is understandable, yet 20 minutes earlier the outcome of the league title looked anything but predictable following a dramatic night in Spain.

Barca had started gloriously against Sevilla - one of just four teams to have beaten them this season when they knocked them out of the Copa del Rey. Acting on the instructions of Pep Guardiola, their coach, to attack from the start, man of the season Lionel Messi put Barcelona ahead after just five minutes. The world's best player is going to win the Pichichi top goalscorers' award with 32 in the league and 45 in all competitions so far this season. He has also a chance of breaking Ronaldo's Barca club record, the Brazilian striker having netted 34 league goals and 47 overall in 1996/97. And the European Golden Shoe is almost certain to be Messi's too - he leads his nearest challenger- Udinese's Antonio Di Natale - by four goals.

Messi has already surpassed the record of another Ronaldo, Cristiano, who scored a total of 42 goals for Manchester United in 2007/08. Had he not missed two months of this season through injury, Ronaldo would be challenging him for the Pichichi. That he sits in third with 26, a goal behind Gonzalo Higuain, his strike partner, demonstrates the impact he has made during his first season in Madrid, even if it is likely to end up trophyless. Barca were two up after 27 minutes through Bojan, the homegrown striker vindicating Guardiola's decision to start him ahead of an out of form Zlatan Ibrahimovic by scoring his third goal in three games.

A Sevilla side aiming to retain their fourth place and Champions League qualification had hoped for an upset, but it never looked likely after Pedro made it 3-0 on the hour. The versatile forward has had a magnificent season and showed with his quick feet and burst of pace why he should be selected for Spain's national team. Barca were brilliant going forward and dominated a side who had been good enough also to beat Real earlier in the season. Seldom has a side looked so comfortable against Sevilla, who had also been reduced to 10 men. Even better news for the Catalans arrived from the Bernabeu, where Bilbao were holding Real 1-1 at half-time. If the scores stayed the same, the title would be Barca's.

Then it all changed. Freddie Kanoute and Luis Fabiano, his formidable strike partner, each scored in a three-minute spell and the 45,000 crowd sensed a comeback as Barca suddenly looked rattled. When Gerrard Pique then pulled Kanoute back in the box, the Sevilla players cried for a penalty. The outcome of the league was dependent on the decision. Not given. Real, meanwhile, scored four goals in the final eight minutes to beat the Basques 5-1, but Barca held on for victory and Real must go to tough but lowly Malaga hoping for their rivals to stumble.

The statistics are staggering. Barca have a record 96 points, Real a club record 95. Between them, they have won 191 of 222 points on offer this season, dropping just 31. Both would be worthy champions. sports@thenational.ae