April 29, 2018 / 9:35 PM / 6 months ago

Soccer-Barca reign in Spain but Real's Euro-dominance rankles

BARCELONA, April 29 (Reuters) - While Barcelona rubber-stamped a decade of domestic dominance by clinching the La Liga title on Sunday in dramatic circumstances, there is an inescapable feeling that their feats have been upstaged by Real Madrid’s continued success in Europe.

Barca beat Deportivo La Coruna 4-2 in a thrilling game with a hat-trick from Lionel Messi to claim a seventh La Liga title in the last 10 years, which also sealed a fourth league and Cup double in the same period.

Yet Real’s achievements in the Champions League, where the Catalans have exited at the quarter-final stage in the last three seasons, have forced Barca to cede the limelight to their arch-rivals.

Although Barca, still unbeaten in the league, wrapped up the title with a remarkable 11-point advantage over Atletico Madrid and 15 point-lead over last year’s champions Real, their season has been overshadowed by their dramatic Champions League exit.

The Catalans were beaten by AS Roma in the quarter-finals after throwing away a 4-1 advantage from the first leg.

Coach Ernesto Valverde continues to be dogged by questions about the woeful 3-0 loss in Rome and was asked if it had damaged his position at the club even on the eve of the title-clinching game against Deportivo.

In the aftermath of Barca’s elimination, voices in the Catalan press asked why Valverde had not rotated his squad more in league games to keep the players fresher for European nights, an art Real coach Zinedine Zidane has mastered.

That painful European exit will feel even sorer should Madrid win their semi-final against Bayern Munich and go on to lift the European Cup for a third successive season, especially considering how badly they have performed in the league.

“Barcelona cannot boast of the double as it could be accompanied, if not eclipsed by Real Madrid getting to the final,” said an article in Catalan newspaper Sport on Sunday.

“That is why Barca are living their own triumphs with a low profile, without passion, well aware that the tough elimination to Roma caused irreparable damage.”

Valverde believes his side deserve more recognition for the manner in which they have stormed to the title with four games remaining, especially as the previous four were decided either on the final or penultimate weekend of the campaign.

“When you win it everything seems so simple. But there are many games behind it, many months and we have been chasing it for so long and we’ve been the top of the league since day one,” Valverde said on Saturday.

“We need to take a breath and realise what we’ve achieved. The last few league titles were not won by big margins. I never thought we’d be this far ahead, I thought it would be a lot closer.” (Reporting by Richard Martin, Editing by Toby Davis and Ed Osmond)

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