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Northern Ireland
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 By Lee Roden

Lionel Messi the hero as usual as Barcelona win La Liga title

Barcelona wrapped up the 2014-15 La Liga title with a game to spare after a 1-0 win from a cagey encounter with Atletico Madrid, and once again it was Lionel Messi who made the difference, scoring the only goal.

With Real Madrid winning against Espanyol back in Catalonia, Barcelona needed to add the finishing touch of a goal to claim the league and as is so often the case, it was Messi who delivered.

Receiving the ball from Jordi Alba just outside the Atletico area, he fed it on to Pedro then ran into the return pass before placing a shot past Jan Oblak. It was a fitting goal with which to claim Barcelona's 23rd league title.

Messi and Barcelona are now two wins away from achieving a history-matching treble. Their next challenge is the Copa del Rey final on May 30 and the Champions League final follows on June 6 in Berlin.

From talk of his demise in January to two steps away from the treble, it has been quite a turnaround for Luis Enrique.

Atletico MadridAtletico Madrid
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Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)

GK Claudio Bravo, 7 -- Made an excellent left-handed save to deny Jose Gimenez early on and was just as effective late in the second half when he tipped a dangerous Guilherme Siqueira shot over for a corner. Authoritative.

DF Dani Alves, 6 -- One of the brightest players in the final third in the opening 45 minutes, producing strong crossing in keeping with his year and testing Oblak with a tricky shot from deep. Suffered defensively in phases of the second half, but ultimately wasn't punished.

DF Gerard Pique, 6 -- Excellent distribution as always and though rarely tested was more than willing to go toe-to-toe with any of Atletico Madrid's strikers.

DF Javier Mascherano, 6 -- Made a few errors on the ball early on but quickly settled and was sharp in attempting to launch counter-attacks after the half-time break.

DF Jordi Alba, 6 -- Made a slightly shaky start by fouling Fernando Torres then conceding a corner, but gained composure as the game progressed. His energy helped create the goal that handed Barca the title.

MF Ivan Rakitic, 5 -- Plenty of running but the Croatian had little presence of note in his 86 minutes on the pitch, only occasionally showing off the kind of sharp, direct passing that serves Barcelona's forwards so well.

MF Sergio Busquets, 7 -- The most controlled of Barcelona's midfielders. Well positioned, ready to receive the ball and more often than not, correct in his decision-making. Some sharp one-touch passing helped to break lines of pressure and kept the attack moving forward.

MF Andres Iniesta, 5 -- Like Rakitic, the veteran worked hard off the ball, dropping deep to help Mascherano and Alba out. Yet like his midfield teammate, he also failed to inspire to any great degree. Better in space than in congested areas.

FW Pedro Rodriguez, 7 -- Started at No.9 in place of Luis Suarez and soon produced some threatening runs in the Atletico area. Had a shot saved and another blocked in the first half, before playing a decisive one-two with Messi to break the deadlock after the break.

FW Lionel Messi, 8 -- Like a player-coach in the way he quickly sniffed out where Atletico could be hurt and adjusted his position accordingly. Using Pedro as a decoy, he dropped away from the right wing to become a straightforward No. 10, finding space in which to pass and move. Constantly arrived from the second line to test Oblak in the first half, before producing a vintage moment of genius that won the league for the Blaugrana.

FW Neymar, 6 -- The quietest of Barca's forwards in the first half, he was more dangerous in the second. Won several fouls in the second period with his quick feet and pace, earning the ire of Atletico Madrid players yet again.


DF Jeremy Mathieu, N/R -- On for Alba in the 79th minute to add some fresh legs to a tiring Barcelona defence and made one clearance of note in his short time on the pitch.

MF Xavi Hernandez, N/R -- Came on for Iniesta in the 81st minute to try to tighten things up. In what could be the veteran's last away game in La Liga, he had the chance to celebrate a league title on the pitch.

MF Rafinha Alcantara, N/R -- On for Rakitic in the 86th minute to run down the clock with the league in Barca's hands.

Lee Roden is a European football writer based in Barcelona. Follow him on Twitter: @LeeRoden89.


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