BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Without Cristiano Ronaldo around to at least keep it interesting, a spectacular Lionel Messi had no rival to stop him from helping Barcelona successfully defend its Spanish league title.
Barcelona clinched the crown with three rounds left on Saturday, after Messi scored to beat Levante 1-0 at Camp Nou.
But this was coming for a long time. Barcelona lost only two games in 35 rounds, and opened up a significant lead early in the season.
It brushed off the only timid attempt to give it a fight, by Atletico Madrid, to secure an eighth title in 11 seasons.
Overall, Barcelona has 26 Liga trophies, second only to Real Madrid with 33.
Now Barcelona can put all of its focus on completing a rare treble of titles. It will face Liverpool in the Champions League semifinals from Wednesday, and plays Valencia in the Copa del Rey final on May 25.
How did Barcelona do it with such apparent ease?
Here are a few reasons:
When Messi couldn’t possibly get any better, he did just that and guided Barcelona to its 10th league title of the 15 he’s disputed.
Messi will be in the running to win a record sixth Ballon d’Or for his season, after scoring 46 goals in all competitions so far and setting up a bunch more for his teammates.
The Liga’s all-time leading scorer was particularly deadly from set-pieces. Six of his 34 league goals came from direct free kicks. At one point, Messi scored from a free kick in three straight matches in late March and