MADRID (Reuters) - Barcelona won their 22nd La Liga title when second-placed Real Madrid drew 1-1 at Espanyol on Saturday to leave Tito Vilanova’s side with an unassailable lead at the top.
Vilanova wrestled the title back from their arch-rivals in his first season since replacing Pep Guardiola at the helm, making it four league trophies in the last five years for the Catalans.
Barca were top from the opening day of the campaign, and are only the second side to have led a 20-team league from beginning to end after Real completed the same feat in 1987-88.
With Real coach Mourinho publicly writing off his side’s chances of overhauling Barcelona as early as the beginning of the year, they have been keen to stress that winning the title was not as easy as it might have appeared.
“We played such a good first half of the season that people have had the sensation it was a league that had been won a long time ago,” Vilanova told a news conference earlier in the day ahead of Sunday’s trip to third-placed Atletico Madrid.
”But (Real) Madrid have played an incredible second half of the season and if we had relaxed we would have had problems.
”This league means a lot. We’ll have beaten what many say is the best Real Madrid side in history, the Madrid of the 100 points (last season).
“Our first objective is to win the league. There is no trophy for notching 100 points. But if it is possible, we will give it a try.”
Barca have 88 points from 34 games and if they win their remaining four matches they could surpass Pep Guardiola’s club record tally of 99 when they triumphed in 2009 and match Real’s league record of 100 points from last term.
In setting a La Liga best of 100 points in the 2011-12 campaign, Real also broke the league’s scoring record of 107 goals set by the Whites in 1989-90 by finding the net 121 times.
Barca have scored 105 goals so far this season, and their leading scorer Lionel Messi, who netted a record 50 league goals last term, has notched 46 so far in this campaign.
Real coach Mourinho was magnanimous in defeat when he spoke after the Espanyol game.
“First I want to congratulate Barcelona, their coaching staff, their players, directors and fans,” the Portuguese said.
“They have won a league title which was ours until now and I think the least we can do is congratulate them.”
Midfielder Andres Iniesta was one of the first Barcelona players to express his thoughts on Twitter.
“The best present, to turn 29 and win La Liga,” the Spain playmaker, who celebrated his birthday on May 11, said.
“The prize for work across the whole year. Let’s go!”
Barca put a statement on their website (www.fcbarcelona.com) calling their success the ”The Tito and ‘Abi’ league title, referring to France defender Eric Abidal, who has had a liver transplant, and Vilanova who needed treatment for throat cancer during the campaign.
“This isn’t just another league title, the club’s 22nd holds a special meaning. The team had to overcome two extremely difficult setbacks,” the club said.
”The illnesses of Tito and Eric left the team without a head manager and one of the best defenders on the roster for part of the season.
“The players and coaching staff, led by Jordi Roura and Aureli Altimira, met the challenge with hard work and an unflinching commitment to the club.”
Reporting by Mark Elkington; Editing by Ken Ferris