Thank you, next! Barcelona seal Liga title but face grander task in Champions League

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A 1-0 victory at home to Levante was enough for Ernesto Valverde's side to clinch the Spanish title on Saturday

It was inevitable. That Barcelona would win the title and that Lionel Messi would be the man to stamp and seal it. 

Barcelona huffed and puffed but could not blow Levante’s house down until the Argentine wolf arrived from the bench to finally break the deadlock, netting the only goal in a 1-0 win on Saturday. 

The delayed nature of the victory, which was a result everyone expected but nobody seemed capable of delivering until Messi came on, meant there were genuinely joyful celebrations, rather than it being a formality from kick-off. 

They must be - and will be - short-lived though, with attention already turning to Wednesday’s Champions League semi-final battle first leg against Liverpool here at Camp Nou. 

Only European success will do for Barcelona, who with eight La Liga titles in 11 years, have grown used to dominating the Spanish domestic scene. 

When the tides eventually turn in the future, this period will be considered more special than it currently is. 

The shadow of their three consecutive quarter-final exits still looms over the club and the clash with Liverpool is the biggest game of the season so far for Barcelona. 

So as important and impressive as this success is, anything but victory over Jurgen Klopp’s side in midweek will plunge Barcelona into at best disquietude, at worst even crisis. 

The latter thought seems outlandish now, but should Barcelona suffer defeat at home, there will be calls for Ernesto Valverde’s head, despite what he has accomplished at the club over the past two seasons. 

That is why Valverde started with Messi and midfield lynchpin Sergio Busquets on the bench. In other circumstances it would have been extraordinary to leave them out with the title at stake. 

Watching this win was legendary Barcelona figure Francesc Satorra, known as ’The Observer’ for the famous photograph in which he was overlooking Jose Mourinho poking Tito Vilanova in the eye. 

Satorra has worked at the club for 41 years but retired last week, controlling matters on the benches, dressing rooms and mixed zone, and for the first time was able to put his feet up and watch the match from the presidential box. 

He, like all of Barcelona’s fans and Messi sat on the sidelines, saw the team turning the screw on Levante, putting on heavy pressure, as they looked for the goals which would win them the title. 

Suarez had two shots saved, Coutinho four in the first half hour, with the team impressing in most aspects apart from finishing. 

It seemed a question of when, not if, the Catalans would break the deadlock. 

Brazilian playmaker Coutinho looked more comfortable without Messi on the pitch, having more influence on the game than in any match over the past few months. 

Perhaps that was why he was the man withdrawn at half-time, when Messi was sent on to sort things out. 

Barcelona created 11 chances in the first half, dominating possession at nearly 70 per cent to 30. 

It was the season in a microcosm - waiting. The truth is since December last year, it’s seemed a formality and only time has kept Barcelona and the title apart. 

And with God - D10S - on your side, that sounds about right.

Messi

It took Messi 16 minutes to make his decisive impact from the bench, ending a chaotic period of pinball in the box with one touch to eliminate two Levante defenders and another to stroke it past the previously unbeatable Aitor Fernandez. 

It was Messi’s 24th goal as a substitute in La Liga, more than anyone else has managed in the 21st century, and his 34th of this season in the top flight. 

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Satorra has borne witness to more of Messi’s goals than anyone in the stadium, with the possible exception of a few of the club’s old boy season ticket holders, and this was as sweet as any of them. 

This was the first time since 2010 that Barcelona have won the title at home, and the Camp Nou noisily celebrated in the final stages. 

But on Sunday morning, the talk in the cafes over breakfast coffee will be about Mo Salah, Sadio Mane and Co coming to town. The real work starts here. 

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