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Luis Suarez leads Barcelona to title, Real can't close gap, Sporting stay up

Five things from the final weekend of the 2015-16 La Liga season as Barcelona won the league despite Real Madrid's late charge, and Getafe and Rayo deserved to go down as Sporting stayed up.

1. Luis Suarez has owned this year's La Liga

Barcelona began their season winning 1-0 at Athletic Bilbao, with a tricky game decided by Luis Suarez's close range finish. And they finished it with Suarez's hat trick in a 3-0 final day win at Granada which saw them hold off Real Madrid's challenge to retain the title.

Throughout the season, Suarez was there when Barca needed him most. He scored 10 goals in seven La Liga games when Lionel Messi was injured during the autumn; more recently, he netted 14 times in five straight wins after a slip in April had allowed Real and Atletico Madrid back into the title race.

In his first full season as a Barca player, the former Liverpool striker scored 40 La Liga goals and added 16 assists. He's the first Pichichi winner not called Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo since 2009.

"Luis Suarez has been the protagonist of this league, allowing Barca come through things like Messi's injury and Neymar's problems," said El Larguero pundit Marcos Lopez. "The Uruguayan has been the big hero of the season," agreed Santi Gimenez in AS. Marca's Sunday cover called it La Liga de Lucho -- a pun on his nickname which means "battler" in Spanish.

Such an abrasive side has got Suarez in trouble before but Barca need his aggressive edge. Without their No. 9's pretty unique mix of lethal finishing and fierce competitiveness, they would not have won this season's title.

2. Zidane's Madrid kept Barcelona honest till the end

At one point shortly after Zinedine Zidane had replaced Rafa Benitez as Real Madrid coach in early January, Los Blancos were a full 12 points behind Barca in the title race.

At one stage last Saturday, after Cristiano Ronaldo had scored early to put Madrid on the way to a 2-0 win at Deportivo La Coruna, Zidane's side actually led the live standings on the final day.

In the end Suarez and Barca were too strong, but they were pushed right to the line as Zidane's side won each of their last 12 La Liga games. "We began badly and managed to get back to within one point," said left-back Marcelo on Saturday. "We played well since halfway through the league."

During recent weeks there have not too been many spectacular performances but even amid much rotation, with the Champions League taking priority, Madrid showed a collective determination and commitment which had dwindled under Benitez.

"We battled on right until the end," Zidane said. "I'm very proud of the team. We're all disappointed, but with 38 games played, we can't change anything now. Barcelona deserved to win La Liga, you've got to take your hat off to what we've done."

Zidane skilfully stitched together a Madrid season that fell apart midway and deserves plenty of praise.

3. Atletico finish third but no disappointment at Calderon

Atletico Madrid kicked off on Saturday knowing they had no chance of catching Barcelona at the top, but still eased to a 2-0 win at home to Celta Vigo, with Antoine Griezmann [22 goals in La Liga] and Fernando Torres [11] again the scorers.

The victory took Diego Simeone's side to 88 points, the second highest tally in the club's history (only beaten by the 90 they claimed when winning the title two years ago.)

Another clean sheet for Jan Oblak, saw the Slovakia international easily win the "Zamora" best goalkeeper award. Oblak conceded a miserly 18 goals while keeping 25 clean sheets over the 38 games which equalled the La Liga record set by Deportivo La Coruna keeper Paco Liano back in 1993-94 (with just 0.47 goals conceded per game.)

"I want to congratulate my players for the work they put in," Simeone said afterwards. "We were brilliant in defence, and a young team has grown over the season. It was a very good campaign, but not excellent, as we did not end up champions."

4. Europa League race

The last day brought no European qualification drama. Villarreal had already claimed fourth place and wrapped up the Champions League playoff spot ahead of their 2-0 defeat at Sporting Gijon on Sunday evening. It was also sure that Athletic Bilbao, Celta Vigo and Sevilla would have the Europa League places, although the exact order is still not yet decided.

Athletic finished in fifth spot after beating Sevilla 3-1 on Saturday evening, assuring themselves direct access to the Europa League group stages next season -- and UEFA competition for a fifth time in seven years.

Celta will be playing in Europe for the first time since 2006-07 as they finished sixth after their defeat at the Calderon. The Galicians could yet be forced to play a Europa League qualifier in early August however, depending on how Sevilla fare over the next week.

Sevilla were sure of seventh before they lost at San Mames on Saturday so had little to play for then. But should they beat Liverpool in Wednesday's Europa League final they will [again] qualify for the Champions League next year.

If not, Sevilla could still get direct access to next season's Europa League by beating Barcelona in Sunday's Copa del Rey decider. Two final defeats and they, not Celta, will face that early season qualifier.

5. Getafe and Rayo deserved to go down

There was much more emotion at the bottom, where three teams kicked off on Sunday evening knowing only one would survive.

Getafe were the only side with their fate in their own hands, but they slipped to a limp 2-1 defeat at midtable Real Betis to remain on 36 points. Rayo Vallecano at least did what they could: beating already relegated Levante 3-1 to climb to 38 points.

But Sporting Gijon eased to a 2-0 home win over Villarreal, with goals from homegrown midfielders Jony and Sergio Alvarez, to also make 38 and stay up due to a better head-to-head record with Rayo.

There was anger from the other two camps at Villarreal coach Marcelino, a former Sporting player who had said prematch he hoped his former side stayed up. Both Getafe coach Juan Esnaider and Rayo president Martin Presa criticised the Asturian for not playing fair.

The relegated sides were less keen to focus on their own failings: Getafe won just two, and Rayo just three, of their last 18 games. Ironically, both beat Villarreal at home, on both occasions when Marcelino had rested key players due to Europa League commitments.

Nine of the Sporting players who clinched safety on Sunday came through the ranks at the Asturian club, which due to financial issues could only make loan and free signings all season. Even still, with former Sporting player Abelardo as coach, they only lost one of their last six games [and that to Barcelona]. So they deserved to stay up.

Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan


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