MADRID (AFP) – Lionel Messi clinched an eighth La Liga title for Barcelona in 11 seasons on Saturday as he scored the only goal in a 1-0 win at home to Levante.
The Argentine star struck his league-leading 34th goal of the campaign after coming off the bench for the second half to help Barca wrap up the title with three games remaining.
Barca hold a nine-point lead over second-placed Atletico Madrid, but the Catalans cannot be overtaken thanks to their superior head-to-head record.
It is Barca’s 26th league title and nudges them closer to Real Madrid’s record of 33 in Spain.
“To win the title with a distance and gap is difficult with the rivals we have. We’ve done it two years in a row,” Barca coach Ernesto Valverde told Movistar.
“We’re happy and to see people enjoying it makes us proud. But we still have challenges ahead.”
Valverde initially left Messi on the bench with Wednesday’s Champions League semi-final first leg against Liverpool in mind, but he replaced Philippe Coutinho at the break at the Camp Nou.
Coutinho and Luis Suarez pressed Levante goalkeeper Aitor Fernandez into action early on, the Brazilian coming closest to breaking the deadlock when his free-kick rattled the crossbar shortly before half-time.
He was sacrificed for Messi though, and it proved an inspired decision as the Argentine swept in the winner on 62 minutes following a frantic scramble inside the Levante area.
The visitors, not yet safe from the threat of relegation, responded and put Barca on the defensive but were denied a last-gasp equaliser when the ball hit the post and rolled into the grateful arms of Marc-Andre ter Stegen.