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Plenty left up for grabs in Spain

And we have a winner! Barcelona did not even need a single point from their Sunday match at Mallorca to become champions, as Real Madrid's last-gasp defeat in Villarreal one day earlier saw the Catalans eight points clear with only two games to play.

Their second trophy in four days, their fifth double and 19th Liga Championship ever, has made it a season to be fondly remembered by the blaugrana. They have achieved utter domestic dominance in irresistible fashion, and are still on pace to beat the 107-goal record that John Toshack's Real Madrid set back in 1990.

Nevertheless, their Sunday celebration was less emphatic than expected. One could explain that half-hearted commemoration because they won the title away from home, but the real reason lies elsewhere: understandably, the minds of players and supporters alike are focused on Rome's Champions League final in ten days' time.

Whatever the result of that match, it should not cast any shadow over this memorable season: even if Barcelona don't win the treble, this already looks like one of those line-ups that will be recited by heart by football fans in years to come and a team that will make football history.

"We have a splendid future ahead of us", said President Joan Laporta on Sunday. Football has a very short memory, and last year's mediocre season, vote of no confidence included, seems to have fallen into oblivion long ago. Less than eight months ago few could have foreseen this extraordinary outcome, given Barcelona's doubtful start to the tournament.

A disproportionate amount of the responsibility for the massive change Barcelona experienced lies on the shoulders of gaffer Josep Guardiola, who put together a winning and highly entertaining team with just a handful of signings. On Sunday, Pep became one of the few former players to win La Liga as a manager as well. The side has been now baptised "Pep's Team" by the Spanish media, an improved version of the original Dream Team of which Pep himself was a member.

Laporta is right, their future looks splendid. This young team is still maturing, and has only a few deficiencies that will surely be addressed over the summer. The coming Champions League final might have come one year too soon for them, however, their blueprint, their style, their approach to play the game is already there, and that is something that cannot be bought overnight. Their arch rivals, Real Madrid, know this well. Florentino Pérez has already made his Messiah-like appearance onto the elections stage with an official speech full of words like: 'discipline, structure and long-term planning'. His actions will have to back up his words in the next couple of weeks, but if we have to judge by his unofficial spokesman, Marca's cover, who last week leaked several player names and a €300m signing budget, it seems like the questionable Galáctico approach will be back soon.

Despite their impressive run in the second half of the season, Madrid will have to undertake a serious re-building effort. They have a bunch of young stars to start with, but will have to make several tough decisions about their remaining players, some of them aging quickly. Skipper Raúl González reached the 700-match mark on Saturday, which proves his amazing durability, but also makes many wonder how much more mileage he can put on the clock while playing against top level opposition.

Even Saint Iker Casillas, one of the pillars to base the restructuring of the merengues upon, has looked shaky of late. On Saturday, his last minute blunder gave Villarreal hopes of Champions League football for the coming season just when the yellow submarines looked almost out of next year's Europa League.

Although the title fight is already settled, there's plenty to be decided in the next two La Liga matchdays. The relegation battle has shortened the number of candidates, but it is as heated as ever. Espanyol managed to flee the bottom of the table, having pulled off the great escape of the season.

In their last eight matches, the periquitos had numbers worthy of a title contender: six wins, one draw, and only one defeat in a match they were leading 0-2 at half-time playing a ten-man Atlético de Madrid side. Only that trademark bipolar rojiblanco performance managed to beat Espanyol in the last two months, during which they scored 15 goals and conceded only four.

Their turning point was a key 0-3 win against relegation rivals Sporting at the end of April, when the espanyolistas demonstrated their experience in the top flight and exposed the naivety of the youthful Gijón back four. Argentinean Mauricio Pochettino has been able to shape a consistent defensive structure, and recovered key players that had underperformed earlier in the season, such as striker Luis García.

On Sunday, their relegation rivals Sporting ended a terrible streak of eight matches without a win, defeating Europa League candidates Málaga and barely leaving the relegation zone. They play at Valladolid on Sunday, and will need all the support they can get, so their committed gaffer Manuel Preciado offered to pay for the trip to any Sporting fan who can't afford the ticket. "Just send me the bill", said Preciado.

The gijoneses compete against Getafe and Osasuna to avoid that last relegation spot. At first, Osasuna's remaining fixtures (Barcelona and Real Madrid) looked like two sure losses, but now that everything is decided in the title department, the navarros should have a chance to get some points out of those matches. Getafe and Sporting face calendars of similar difficulty, therefore anything can happen in the next two weeks at the bottom of the table.

At the other half of the table, various European spots are also up for grabs. While Real Madrid and Sevilla have already guaranteed their participation in the next Champions League, the remaining spot has Atlético, Valencia and Villarreal contending for it.

The most entertaining match this weekend, even if the football quality was below average, was Atlético vs. Valencia, a must win encounter between two high-level sides that have gone through a very rough season. Valencia's cash struggle and uncertain future have impacted the players' performance; Atlético's year deserves its own book. A divided dressing room, the firing of a competent gaffer, players incredibly out of shape, memorable wins and embarrassing defeats. Not only Real Madrid requires a serious restructuring effort in the Spanish capital.

Atlético have moved quickly and started theirs before the end of the season. Last week the rojiblancos severed ties with Greek full-back Georgios Seitaridis, the last representative of "the Lamborghini gang". The gang in question was a group of Atlético players who loved expensive cars and had serious difficulties to follow team discipline rules; Nuno Oliveira "Maniche" was another active member, all of whom are now out of the club.

"The Lamborghini gang" was only one tiny example of a very turbulent season for Atlético. Last night they were the better team and thoroughly deserved the win despite a dodgy penalty decision. The indios are now in a privileged position to play Champions League football again, but as we all know anything is possible when our beloved Atlético are in the mix.

Still two weeks to go and we already have a memorable champion of a hugely entertaining La Liga season. But there's plenty to be decided in both halves of the table, plus the Champions League final. Make no mistake, a few surprises are still in store for La Liga fans.

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