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May 13, 2013

Vilanova: Barcelona best by big margin

As Barcelona players celebrated winning the La Liga title, coach Tito Vilanova hailed his side as deserved champions after they had dominated the Primera Division from start to finish.

Barca were confirmed as champions on Saturday with four games remaining when nearest challengers Real Madrid drew 1-1 at Espanyol.

Sunday's 2-1 comeback win at Atletico Madrid stretched their lead to ten points, having played one game fewer than Jose Mourinho's men.

The Catalan coach said there was no doubt who had been Spain's best team this season, but said he did not deserve any special praise for having guided them to glory despite missing a chunk of the season through illness.

"We have been the best team in La Liga without a doubt, and by a big margin," he said. "I would value the work done by the players. This is not Tito's Liga, not at all - it is won by the team. This is a team game."

Barca's whirlwind start to the season, which saw them win 16 and draw one of their 17 games before Christmas while defending champions Madrid faltered, had been key to retaking the title, Vilanova said.

"Sometimes big teams can drop points early," he explained. "So the objective was to get 15 points from first five games.

"We had an advantage from there. After that, when everyone said the league was already won, we were mentally strong to hold off a Real Madrid side that played an exceptional second half of the season."

Barca's players had Monday off to relax, except for Lionel Messi, who will undergo tests on his injured hamstring.

The players will go on an open-top bus parade through the Catalan capital from the seafront to the Camp Nou on Monday evening, beginning at 18.30 local time.

Defender Gerard Pique said some players had got together on Saturday night to celebrate after Madrid's draw confirmed Barca's title, adding that he was looking forward to further partying.

"I am eager to celebrate this title," the 26-year-old said. "It has been a difficult year, and now we have to celebrate.

"We are the best team in La Liga. We have to celebrate, we need to enjoy this."

Eight blaugrana squad members, including former Arsenal players Cesc Fabregas and Alex Song, Jordi Alba and Alexis Sanchez, have now earned a first Primera Division medal.

Fabregas, also 26, who has been in and out of the team in recent months, said winning the title was the highlight of his club career so far, but added that he wanted to improve his contribution next year.

"I am very pleased we won the title. I am very proud, it is a dream for me... it is very special," he said. "It is the most important title I have won on the club level.

"I have participated a lot in La Liga and that pleases me. I have to improve, I need to be self-critical once the season ends - but I am young, and I can do it."

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