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Barcelona romp home in title race as Iniesta waves goodbye to La Liga

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Barcelona romp home in title race as Iniesta waves goodbye to La Liga

Barcelona romp home in title race as Iniesta waves goodbye to La Liga

Barcelona were beaten only once as they won the Spanish 2017-18 league title finishing 14 points clear of second-placed Atletico Madrid and 17 ahead of third-placed Real Madrid.

The Champions were forced to sell Neymar last summer after Paris Saint Germain paid his buy-out clause, a world record 222 million euros (261 million dollars).

And when the club tried to buy replacements they encountered problems.

Ousmane Dembele was signed from Borussia Dortmund but his pre-season was disrupted by the late move and he then spent three months out with a thigh injury.

And when they also tried to bring in Philippe Coutinho from Liverpool the Premier League club held out until the 2018 January transfer window.

Coach Ernesto Valverde was new to the job and a 5-1 aggregate loss to Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup curtain-raiser seemed to suggest a long hard season ahead.

But Valverde tweaked Barcelona’s famed 4-3-3 formation to accommodate the loss of Neymar and transformed the form of left-back Jordi Alba and midfielder Andres Iniesta.

The latter would announce in April that he would be leaving at the end of the season but he made sure his last campaign was vintage one.

He had looked tired and over-worked under Luis Enrique the previous season but with Barcelona playing an extra player in midfield and just Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi upfront, the captain was free to dominate as he did in his prime.

Barcelona were never more dominant than in the ‘Christmas Clasico’ on December 23rd when they beat arch-rivals Real Madrid 3-0 at the Santiago Bernabeu with Messi and Suarez both scoring before Aleix Vidal added a late third.

Real’s league campaign was a disappointment from start to finish – the 2017 champions winning only one of their opening three fixtures and failing to hold on to a two-goal lead against Villarreal in their final match.

“We cannot be happy with our league campaign, especially about the way things went at the start,” coach Zinedine Zidane said.

The closest thing Barcelona had to a rival for the title was Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid who did their best to keep pace with the Champions.

They were banned from registering players in the first half of the season, meaning new signing Diego Costa could only play after the mid-winter break.

When he finally pulled on the red and white shirt he brought the best out of strike partner Antoine Griezmann who finished the season with 19 league goals.

It seems likely to be his last season at the club, with Spanish media reporting he will move to Barcelona in July.

The end of the season was marked by several emotional departures.

Xabi Prieto left Real Sociedad after 15 seasons, Fernando Torres played his last game for Atletico Madrid and Iniesta signed off at Barcelona.

“It was a different sort of game because it’s been a different sort of week. It was all about saying goodbye to Iniesta,” said a drained Ernesto Valverde after his team’s final-day 1-0 win.

Asked if he was in favour of Iniesta’s shirt being retired, he said: “If you keep retiring shirts when great players leave, at this club you will end up without numbers.”

Barcelona at least still have Lionel Messi as they go into next season. He finished La Liga top scorer with 34 goals. Celta Vigo’s Iago Aspas was the top scoring Spanish with 20.

It was not enough to put Celt into Europe with Betis joining Villarreal and Sevilla in next season’s Europa League.

Valencia joined Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid in the Champions League with Deportivo La Coruna, Las Palmas and rock bottom Malaga relegated.

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