x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Xavi joins elite band as Barca clinch title

Barca now set their sights on the European Champions League crown after clinching domestic silverware.

Xavi, the Barcelona midfield schemer, became only the third Barca player to win six league titles after the Catalan giants claimed a third successive Primera Liga title last night.

A 1-1 draw at Levante was enough to ensure Barca could not be caught by second-placed Real Madrid. Pep Guardiola’s men are now six points ahead of Madrid with two games remaining, but boast the better head-to-head record against Jose Mourinho’s side, which is the deciding factor if the teams are level on points.

Xavi follows in the footsteps of Antoni Ramallets (between 1947-1960) and Guardiola (1990-1999) to win half-a-dozen titles.

“It`s taken a lot of hard work and this team deserves a lot of credit,” Xavi said in AS. “We need to congratulate everyone associated with Barcelona. The fans deserve it and I imagine that today we will celebrate with them in the streets.”

Coach Pep Guardiola was determined to savour the moment

“After a difficult season we’ve competed against a great team (Madrid) and now we should enjoy what we’ve achieved,” he said.

“We want to enjoy it, eat well, dance a lot, sing a lot....do a lot of everything.”

With the title wrapped up, Barca can now concentrate on preparations for the upcoming Champions League final against Manchester United at Wembley, where they will be looking to conquer Europe for the third time in six years.

“Now is the time to party, that’s what winning this title deserves, and we have time to prepare for the final in London,” Guardiola added. “We have to really savour this and celebrate it with family and and friends. These are things that you never forget.

“I also hope people have enjoyed watching us play, that would be the best reward. In the league the reality is that if you are champions at the end it`s because you deserve it. Once again we have done an excellent job in this competition. I dedicate the title to the squad. We’ve done things really well and all this is thanks to the players and the effort they’ve made. They are unique. They are an enormously strong bunch of players.”

However, Guardiola, whose squad included eight players who helped Spain win the World Cup last year, admitted it was not all smooth sailing for his side, who were hit badly with injuries towards the end of the campaign.

“Three-quarters of the season was spectacular. At the end we`ve not been quite so good, but we`ve always continued being competitive,” he said.

“There are things to improve. We need to take into account the incredible schedule these players have had over the last two years. We`ve also had a lot of difficulties with regards absentees. Every year it takes a huge effort (to win the league), and this is the lesson.”

Barca took the lead against Levante midway through the first half through Seydou Keita`s header.

However, Levante hit back just before the break when Felipe Caicedo took advantage of a defensive mistake from Gerard Pique to equalise. Barca came close to a winner in the second half when Lionel Messi struck the woodwork.

Messi said: “I`m very happy because it`s been a very tough title. It`s taken a lot of hard work to be champions and more so against a great rival like Real Madrid. Now we have to enjoy it.”

Captain Carles Puyol, who was not part of the squad at the Cuitat de Valencia stadium, now has five Primera Division winners’ medals in his collection. The Spain centre-back said: “I have to be calm but I`m very happy, it`s different when you experience it from outside. I`ve been in the stands but I`m very pleased. We`ve worked very hard and today we`ve got the rewards. Now to celebrate it and rest a little to prepare for the (Champions League) final.”