Barcelona clinch first LaLiga since Lionel Messi’s departure

Barcelona have been crowned LaLiga champions for the first time since 2019 after winning 4-2 away at Espanyol in Sunday’s Catalan derby.

Robert Lewandowski scored twice in the first half either side of Alex Balde’s back-post strike to set Barca on their way. Jules Kounde added a fourth after the break as Barca cruised to a win that put them 14 points clear of second-placed Real Madrid to clinch the title with four games to spare.

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It is the 27th time the Blaugrana have won the Spanish top flight crown — only Madrid have won it more times (35) — and the first since Xavi Hernandez took charge at the end of 2021.

Barca won the league eight times between 2009 and 2019 as part of a golden era led by Lionel Messi but had failed to win it in the last three seasons.

Last year, the first without Messi following his move to Paris Saint-Germain, saw them end the campaign 13 points behind eventual winners Madrid.

However, that was viewed as a success given they were ninth when former midfielder Xavi replaced Ronald Koeman as coach at Spotify Camp Nou midway through the campaign.

After steadying the ship to lead Barca to Champions League qualification and a second-placed finish in the league, Barca backed Xavi in the transfer market last summer.

They sold off club assets to fund the signings of Lewandowski, Kounde and Raphinha, while Andreas Christensen and Franck Kessie arrived as free agents.

Lewandowski’s goals have subsequently helped them regain their place at the top of Spanish football, with the Poland striker leading the league with 21 goals.

However, it’s been Barca’s defensive record which has enabled them to remain so consistent throughout a season disrupted by the World Cup in Qatar in November and December.

They have kept 25 clean sheets in LaLiga this season, conceding just 13 goals — and only two at Spotify Camp Nou — recording 11 1-0 ways on the way to the title.

Results in Europe have been less convincing, with Barca exiting both the Champions League and the Europa League early, but there was a memorable Spanish Super Cup final win over Madrid, which brought the first trophy of the Xavi era.

Madrid gained revenge in the Copa del Rey semifinal, beating Barca 4-0 at Camp Nou after losing the first leg 1-0 at the Santiago Bernabeu. Los Blancos went on to beat Osasuna in the final.

Barca are expected to receive the league trophy next weekend when they host Real Sociedad, with fixtures against Real Valladolid, Mallorca and Celta Vigo to follow to close the season.