Campions!

Posted by Francesc Tomas

Barcelona achieved a courageous 1-2 win against Atletico de Madrid at the Vicente Calderon in Matchday 35 of La Liga. Alexis Sanchez and Gabi (own goal) scored for the Catalans, who enjoyed 58 percent of possession, created 12 goal-scoring chances and attempted 10 shots, four of them on target.

- Match report: Atletico 1-2 Barcelona
- Hunter: What to make of Barca's title

It was a strange match for Barcelona, who were crowned La Liga champions before they even jumped on the pitch thanks to Real Madrid's inability to beat local rivals Espanyol at Cornella-El Prat the previous night.

As a result, the degree of pressure on the Blaugrana players to achieve the away win against the best Atletico side since 1996 had decreased significantly, but despite that fact, they still came out determined to gift their supporters with yet another reason to smile.

Tito Vilanova didn't introduce many changes in his starting lineup despite having already mathematically clinched the title, which I found quite strange. Personally, I would have given those less regular players such as Thiago Alcantara, Martin Montoya or Marc Bartra some valuable playing time which would help them grow and improve in preparation for next season, but the coach seemed to have other ideas.

The match started with Barcelona winning the midfield battle thanks to their traditional pass-and-move approach, with Andres Iniesta controlling the tempo and stretching the pitch by distributing the ball across the park. Unfortunately, the well-organised Colchonero defensive formation didn't allow the visitors to find any clear openings during the first 45 minutes, looking fairly comfortable when protecting their own goal and breaking with quick counter-attacking bursts whenever possible.

As soon as the second half started, Barcelona exposed the obvious weaknesses in their make-shift defence once again with another display of clumsy defending. After the Catalan back line missed a couple of clear opportunities to control a loose ball in their own final third, the infallible Radamel Falcao punished Barcelona by scoring his 34th goal of the season with an accurate strike.

To make matters worse, the inspiring Lionel Messi walked off the pitch injured with 22 minutes left to play, leaving the team down to ten men for the remainder of the match due to the fact that Vilanova had already introduced his three substitutes at that point.

Barcelona have now officially confirmed that La Pulga is suffering from thigh muscle discomfort and that further tests will be carried out once the team returns to the Catalan capital, but early rumours suggest that the Argentinean forward could need a whole month to regain full fitness. Personally, I feel Messi's main priority at this stage must be recovering well and perhaps forget about playing any more football until the beginning of next season.

Anyway, back to the game. Despite the absence of their top goal-scorer and being a man down, the Camp Nou giants didn't change their philosophy one bit and still focused on controlling the game by attacking consistently and creating chances whenever eventual cracks in the rival defence were found.

Time was slowly but surely running out and, inevitably, the prospect of losing the very first game after winning the championship was looming above the players' heads.

As a direct result of the team's perseverance and, let's be honest, a fair degree of luck, Barcelona managed to put the ball in the back of Thibaut Courtois' net after a couple of quick plays from the wings. From that point on, all the Blaugrana had to do was keep possession and patiently wait for the final whistle.

Despite all the adversity Vilanova has been faced with, the Catalan manager has led his team to domestic glory in his first season in charge, bringing the 22nd league title to the Camp Nou museum in a season many expected to be chaotic following the departure of former colleague Pep Guardiola.

Unfortunately for those doubters, the team has won 29 out of 35 league matches so far, scored 107 goals in the process and is still on target to reach the record 100 point mark with only three games to go -- A tremendous performance that should definitely not be underestimated.

While it is obvious that the team's weaknesses have become even clearer at given stages of the year, it looks as if the board have finally realised and are prepared to sell under-performing players and invest heavily to attract fresh, experienced signings in order to strengthen the team ahead of next season.

Anyway, let's just sit back for a moment and celebrate the club's latest trophy -- the Blaugrana open bus tour around the streets of the Catalan capital is warming up its engine already!

Player Ratings (0-10; 10=best)

Jose Manuel Pinto (6) -- Solid. Made two saves in his sixth league appearance of the season.

Dani Alves (5) -- Joined attack well before being substituted due to injury before the halftime break.

Adriano (6) -- Played as a centre-half once again. Used his speed to recover a couple of potentially dangerous balls. Was replaced due to injury.

Gerard Pique (6) -- Mostly able to organise the back line, but could have done better to avoid the Atletico goal by reacting quicker.

Jordi Alba (7) -- Constantly bombarding forward from the left-back position, tracking back well when needed.

Alex Song (6) -- Started his seventh consecutive game and didn't disappoint. Combined well with those around him; kept his game simple.

Andres Iniesta (7) -- Stepped up as Barcelona's leader, always eager to rotate and dribble into dangerous positions.

Cesc Fabregas (6) - A decent, committed performance which helped the Catalans control the midfield. Managed to assist Alexis for the crucial first Blaugrana goal.

Lionel Messi (6) -- Far from his best. Forced to drop deep into midfield to get involved, as the Atletico back line was determined to keep him off their own defensive third. Had to leave the pitch due to injury late in the second half.

Cristian Tello (8) -- Man of the Match -- Dynamic, able to increase his pace whenever needed, a real threat to his marker. Assisted Villa for Barcelona's scrappy second goal.

Alexis Sanchez (7) -- A spirited performance from the wings but not always able to create much danger. Fortunately, leveled the score by notching his seventh league goal, 10th of the season, after a quick combination with Cesc.

Substitutes: Marc Bartra (6), Sergio Busquets (6), David Villa (6)

Have your say

What did you think of Barcelona's performance versus Atletico de Madrid?

Who was your Man of the Match? What are your player ratings?

I welcome and appreciate all respectful feedback.

For more news and opinion notes on Barcelona, follow Francesc Tomas at @BarcablogESPN and Facebook; 33,000 Cules have already joined.

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