Already a Barcelona great, Xavi joins Pep and Cruyff with first LaLiga title

Barcelona wrapped up a 27th LaLiga title on Sunday with a memorable 4-2 win at Espanyol in the Catalan derby at RCDE Stadium.

Robert Lewandowski scored twice while defenders Alejandro Balde and Jules Kounde each netted their first league goals as the Blaugrana were crowned champions for the first time since 2019.

Javier Puado and Joselu pulled late goals back for Espanyol but the defeat leaves them mired in trouble at the other end of the table, four points from safety with just four games to go.

It is also Barcelona’s first title since Lionel Messi left the club in 2021 and signed with Paris Saint-Germain.

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Rapid reaction

1. Xavi leads Barca to title at home of crosstown rivals

Barcelona coach Xavi Hernandez insisted before the game that he did not care where the title was clinched, the important thing was to win it, but he admitted it would be sweet for supporters to get over the line at the home of their local rivals.

A 1-1 draw at Spotify Camp Nou in December suggested Barca would not have things all their own way at Espanyol and that looked true when Joselu struck wide in the first minute. Things quickly unravelled for the home side from there, though, against a Barca team fresh from five days off and keen to win the first league trophy of the Xavi era.

Robert Lewandowski opened the scoring in the 11th minute, turning home his 20th LaLiga goal of the campaign after good work from Alejandro Balde, who added the second in the 20th minute when he connected with Pedri‘s cross. Frenkie de Jong and Raphinha then combined to set Lewandowski up for this second just before the break.

De Jong brilliantly set Jules Kounde up for Barca’s fourth in the 53rd minute, which appeared to be the signal for Barca to switch off. Javi Puado, after several warnings, eventually grabbed a consolation for Espanyol with Joselu adding another in injury time — but there was to be no miracle as Xavi became the fifth person to win the league as a player and coach at Barca, following Josep Samitier, Johan Cruyff, Pep Guardiola and Luis Enrique.

2. Lewandowski delivers with scoring title in sight

Barca sold club assets to fund spending last summer to give Xavi the squad he wanted. The Barca coach was desperate to sign Lewandowski to lead the line, add experience in attack and score the goals that would bring silverware back to the club.

He has delivered on those fronts. The veteran striker’s double against Espanyol took his tally in LaLiga to 21 and left him on track to finish the campaign, his first in Spain, as the league’s top scorer. Real Madrid‘s Karim Benzema is second in the Pichichi race with 17.

Lewandowski, meanwhile, has scored at least 20 league goals in eight straight seasons (following 2014-15, his first season at Bayern Munich, when he scored 17).

Lewandowski also scored in the Spanish Super Cup win over Real Madrid in January — the first trophy won under Xavi — but Champions League disappointment means there is still plenty of room for improvement next season.



Barca players run for safety as Espanyol fans chase them after title win

Espanyol fans angry with Barcelona players celebrating the LaLiga title on their pitch storm the field and chase them into the tunnel.

3. Espanyol sinking towards second division

As each Barca goal hit the back of the net, the atmosphere turned nastier at RCDE Stadium. Supporters chanted for the board to resign and for president Chen Yansheng to “get out of our club.” Even if Espanyol fans get the change they crave, it may be too late to save their season.

Coach Luis Garcia, a club legend as a player who replaced the recently sacked Diego Martinez, has struggled to get a tune out of his side and they were woeful in the first half against Barca. Despite setting up with a back five, the buckled-in defence offered the resistance of a team seemingly with no fight left.

That did change after the break. There was more aggression and they actually ended the game with more shots on target than Barca, but they face up an uphill struggle to secure their status in LaLiga.

Rayo Vallecano, Atletico Madrid, Valencia and Almeria are the final four games. Espanyol are four points from safety and a second relegation in three years — they bounced back at the first time of asking in 2021 — is now a real possibility.

Best and worst performers

BEST: Alejandro Balde, Barcelona.
Set up the first goal and scored the second, terrifying Oscar Gil with his pace all evening.

BEST: Frenkie de Jong, Barcelona.
Ran the midfield in the first half, feeding the ball to Raphinha which led to Lewandowski’s second goal. Added his own assist after the break with a great pass to Kounde.

BEST: Robert Lewandowski, Barcelona.
Not been as prolific in the second half of the season but ensured his goals will be linked to Barca’s 27th title with a brace that took his tally to 21 in LaLiga.

WORST: Sergi Gomez, Espanyol.
Played in the middle of Espanyol’s back five but couldn’t get near Lewandowski. Taken off at half-time with his side 3-0 down.

WORST: Denis Suarez, Espanyol.
Like Gomez, was hooked at the bench against his former side. Gave the ball away cheaply when in promising positions.

WORST: Oscar Gil, Espanyol.
Struggled to deal with Balde’s threat on the left, although did improve in the second half.

Highlights and notable moments

Robert Lewandowski nets his second of the night and has the inside track for the league scoring title.

As Barcelona players and staff celebrate in the middle of Espanyol’s pitch, some home fans didn’t take too kindly to that.

After the match: What the managers and players said

Barcelona coach Xavi Hernandez, on the winning the title: “It is a magnificent feeling, one of getting the job done well. This started in July. It is 10 months of hard work and sacrifice. It felt like the moment tonight. There had been criticism about giving the players five days off which didn’t sit well, but it served us well. The fans deserve this. The players, too.

Xavi, on the process: “There has also been a titanic effort from the president to build a strong squad. Winning the title with four games left shows we have been much stronger than the rest [of the league], much stronger. It is a huge credit to the team. I am very happy, very proud to win the league title.”

Xavi, on Barcelona celebrating on Espanyol’s pitch: “I think it was enough. It’s normal to celebrate but I understand we aren’t at home and you can’t be disrespectful. I know it is difficult to control sometimes, but I told the players it was better to head in.”

Espanyol coach Luis Garcia, on the fans running onto the pitch: “I didn’t see what happened, but it has been explained to me and it’s not something we can be proud of. We condemn all acts of violence. We took the security measures to prevent it but it was not possible in the end.”

Garcia, on Espanyol’s loss and potential relegation: “It’s a tough defeat to take. I am to blame for the result. But we are still the same distance away [from safety] as last week, so it’s still possible to stay up. … The most important thing is that the team is still alive. I still think it is possible. I just want to get to training on Monday now and to pick my players up.”

Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information)

– With 27 league titles, Barcelona remain behind Real Madrid for most in Spain’s top division (35). The teams with most titles across Europe’s major leagues include Benfica (37 in Portugal), Ajax (36 in the Netherlands), and Juventus (36 in Italy).

– Robert Lewandowski has scored at least 20 league goals in eight straight seasons — the last time he failed to reach the mark was in 2014-15, his first season at Bayern Munich (17 goals).

– Barcelona could still set the LaLiga record for fewest goals conceded regardless of season length, a mark currently held by 1931-32 Real Madrid in a season that was just 18 games long. After Sunday’s result, Barcelona have allowed 13 goals through 34 games played (four games left).

– If Espanyol are relegated, it will be the first time since the 1992-93 season in which Barcelona also won the league title. Real Madrid won the title the other four seasons in which Espanyol dropped to the second division.

Up next

Espanyol: The fight to avoid relegation continues with a trip to Rayo Vallecano next Sunday.

Barcelona: Return to Camp Nou as LaLiga champions on Saturday, hosting Real Sociedad.


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