Barcelona 1 Levante 0: Messi goal secures LaLiga title as Barca eye treble
Barcelona wrapped up their 26th LaLiga title as Lionel Messi came off the bench to score the winner in a 1-0 victory over Levante on Saturday that could be the catalyst for treble success.
The result at Camp Nou means Ernesto Valverde's men sit nine points ahead of nearest rivals Atletico Madrid, against whom they boast a superior head-to-head record, with three games to go.
And Barca still have the chance to lift two more trophies, with a Champions League semi-final against Liverpool and a Copa del Rey final with Valencia to come.
Valverde's decision to again leave Messi on the bench, perhaps with an eye on Wednesday's first-leg visit of Liverpool, will have provided some initial comfort to the visitors.
In the reverse fixture, the star forward was involved in all of Barca's goals – scoring three and assisting two – as the Catalans ran out 5-0 winners.
But he was introduced at the break and made the difference, showing profligate team-mates Philippe Coutinho and Luis Suarez the way.
Levante might have hoped for an easier outing in Messi's first-half absence, but goalkeeper Aitor Fernandez – who did not play in that match – was pressed into notable action twice inside the opening five minutes to repel efforts from Suarez and Coutinho.
The same pair were denied again, Suarez at the near post and Coutinho with a gilt-edged headed chance, before the Brazilian struck the crossbar with a free-kick.
Messi came on for the wasteful Coutinho at the interval and finally made the breakthrough just past the hour mark, with Levante failing to clear their lines and the Argentina striker supplying a two-touch finish from the edge of the six-yard box.
Levante were stung into action and Jose Luis Morales should have levelled matters soon after, but he skied over the bar with under-worked Marc-Andre ter Stegen left exposed.
Considering their complete lack of attacking threat for more than an hour, Levante did well to make the closing stages interesting and Enis Bardhi struck the post in a late scramble, but Barca ultimately sealed the three points they needed to celebrate an eighth LaLiga title in 11 seasons.
What does it mean? Treble joy on the cards
Barca have left their domestic rivals trailling in their wake, having suffered just two top-flight losses with three games remaining this term. A two-legged tussle with Premier League title hopefuls Liverpool is still to come in Europe's top competition, while they are strong favourites to see off Valencia in the Copa del Rey showpiece.
Levante, meanwhile, are by no means safe despite a 4-0 midweek win over Real Betis and will take extra interest in the exploits of 18th-placed Girona on Sunday after returning empty-handed from Camp Nou for the 13th top-flight visit in a row.
Fernandez the one-man wall
He ended up on the losing side, but Fernandez could scarcely have done more to keep his side in the contest for as long as he did. It would be a harsh judge who pinned the blame for Barca's goal on the goalkeeper.
Coutinho is yet to deliver on the hype of his big-money move from Liverpool and this display underlined how he appears to be lacking a cutting edge. He was lively and constantly involved in the 45 minutes he had, but at Barca you need to have the finishing touch and that was sorely lacking.
Jurgen Klopp brings his buoyant Merseysiders to Camp Nou on Wednesday, with a trip to Celta Vigo next on Barca's agenda in LaLiga. Levante host Rayo Vallecano next Saturday.