In the eyes of many, the Primera Division comes second to the glamour of the European Cup, but the league is a better indicator of overall quality
Barcelona have been here before. The Catalans claimed La Liga on Sunday to complete a domestic double, having won the Copa del Rey by beating Sevilla last weekend. But just like in 2016, their achievements could be somewhat overshadowed if Real Madrid win the Champions League.
Ernesto Valverde’s unbeaten side wrapped up the title with four fixtures remaining after a hard-fought but ultimately comfortable 4-2 win away to Deportivo La Coruna as Lionel Messi hit a hat-trick after Philippe Coutinho had opened the scoring against a Galician side that came from 2-0 down in a desperate attempt to avoid the drop.
The vitcory sees Barca win two out of a possible three trophies this season, yet there is still disappointment among some supporters after their team’s Champions League collapse against Roma in the last eight.
And that frustration will be exacerbated if Barca’s fierce rivals Real Madrid, so poor in La Liga this term, make it past Bayern Munich on Tuesday and go on to claim the European Cup crown for a third successive season and a fourth time in the past five editions.
Asked ahead of the 2016 Champions League final whether winning the competition was better than a domestic double, Cristiano Ronaldo replied: “If we win the Champions League, it is much more than a double.”
That is the thinking among many fans these days, especially those overseas. But given the choice of the two, many Spanish supporters would rather see their team win La Liga. Or both, as Real Madrid did last season and Barca have on three occasions in recent seasons (including two trebles).
When Real coach Zinedine Zidane was asked last year to pick a highlight from his first 100 games in charge at Real, he opted not for either of his two Champions League wins, but instead chose La Liga. “Winning the league was the most special thing,” he said.
And asked again recently for a preference, with his side way adrift in the league, he said: “For me, it’s more exciting to win La Liga. It’s the most difficult competition. I think that is also what the players want. In the Champions League, if you look at the history of this club, nobody has achieved that.”
Madrid have also won La Liga more than anyone else in Spain, with 33 titles to Barcelona’s 25, although that advantage has been cut in recent seasons as the Catalans have claimed seven championships to Real’s two since 2008-09.
And Pep Guardiola, who won the first three of those as Barca boss as well as two Champions League crowns for the Blaugrana in his four-year tenure, said this month: “You can win the Champions League in seven games. The league is 10 months. I’m sorry, the league is much more important.”
That stance was mocked by some sectors of the media and also fans in Spain as it came after his Manchester City side had crashed out of the competition. However, he is quite right – winning a league title is still a better indicator of overall quality than the Champions league, which rewards teams peaking momentarily instead of sustained excellence.
Barca’s sustained excellence this season has been remarkable. They could join an elite group of teams in Europe to go the entire league season unbeaten, they have scored 90 goals in 33 games and conceded just 21. Meanwhile, Lionel Messi is enjoying what some consider the most influential campaign of his career, his hat-trick on Sunday taking him to 32 goals in the competition.
After Barca’s recent 2-1 win at home to Valencia, which followed their Champions League exit against Roma, Luis Suarez said: “It’s normal that the fans were angry. But their response was also a recognition to the league campaign we are realising, which has great merit.”
Part of that is down to a Madrid media machine keen to play down Barca’s achievements and if Real win the Champions League again at the end of next month, the Catalans’ domestic double will be belittled again by many.
But it should not be. Because for all the glamour and the glory of winning the European Cup, it is La Liga that shows which team is the best overall. And this season, once again, that has been Barcelona.