(Al Jazeera) Barcelona are celebrating their first Spanish league title since Lionel Messi left the football club two years ago amid the club’s financial struggles.
The Spanish club registered a 4-2 victory over Espanyol on Sunday in a match marred by Espanyol fans storming the pitch at the end of the game and forcing Barcelona players to head for their dressing room.
Robert Lewandowski scored twice to lead the Catalan club to its first league title since 2019. The title was secured with four rounds remaining.
The last time Barcelona celebrated a league title without Messi in its squad was back in 1998-99. He came into the first team in 2004-05 and won the title that season.
Celebrations on the field were short-lived as players had to rush to the dressing room after a large group of Espanyol fans from the ultra section behind one of the goals started running towards Barcelona players singing and celebrating in the centre.
Security guards quickly intervened but riot police had to stand in front of the tunnel’s entrance to prevent the fans from going in. The supporters threw chairs and other objects.
Alejandro Balde and Jules Koundé also scored for Barcelona, who now have 27 league titles, eight fewer than Real Madrid. Third-place Atletico Madrid are 16 points behind after losing 1-0 at last-place Elche earlier in the day.
The victory over city rivals Espanyol gave Barcelona an insurmountable 85 points from 34 matches, 14 points more than Madrid, which won 1-0 at Getafe on Saturday.
Barcelona have led since the 13th round and have the league’s best defence with 13 goals conceded – 14 better than any other club. They also have 25 clean sheets.
“It’s a magnificent feeling, a feeling of job well done,” Barcelona coach Xavi said. “This is important to give the club’s project some stability. The league title shows that things have been done the right way and that we have to stay on this path.”
Barcelona won eight league titles in 11 seasons through 2019. They finished second to Madrid in 2020, then third – behind Madrid and champions Atletico – in 2021. They were second to Madrid last season.
Barcelona’s first title without Messi came in the Spanish Super Cup in January.
The club were yet to win a major trophy since President Joan Laporta took action to restructure their debt and revamp the squad with players like Lewandowski, Jules Koundé and Raphinha. Laporta celebrated with the players in the dressing room.
Lewandowski opened the scoring on Sunday from close range in the 11th minute after a cross by Alejandro Balde. The 19-year-old left back added to the lead nine minutes later off a pass by Pedri, scoring his first league goal with the club.
Lewandowski, the league’s leading scorer with 21 goals, added his second in the 40th after a low cross by Raphinha in a breakaway. Koundé scored the fourth in the 53rd with a header after a long pass by Frenkie de Jong. It was also his first league goal with the club.
Busquets’s sweet goodbye
The win will be an emotional occasion for captain Sergio Busquets, who last week announced that he will be leaving Barca after 15 years at the end of the season.
It was the midfielder’s ninth LaLiga title and 32nd overall with the club, with his trophy cabinet also including three Champions Leagues, seven Copa del Rey and three FIFA Club World Cups, as well as his 2010 World Cup and 2012 European Championship success with Spain.
“I’m delighted, I think we had a spectacular campaign and clinched it today with a great win,” Busquets told Movistar Plus.
“We are a solid team, a well-oiled squad with an outstanding defence and that’s how champions are built.
“I’m proud of what we did the entire season, being solid and regular, winning the games we should and not dropping points. It was a remarkable season and I’m so happy to end my history here this way.”
Espanyol’s survival hopes dashed
The loss dealt a big blow to Espanyol in their fight against relegation. They stayed second-to-last, four points from safety.
Espanyol had won only once in their last 10 league matches, with a draw and eight losses. They were relegated in 2020 for the first time in nearly three decades, returning to the top flight in their first attempt as second-division champions.
Javi Puado scored Espanyol’s first goal in the 73rd and Joselu added the second in stoppage time as Barcelona players were getting ready to celebrate.