MADRID • Barcelona may yet prove that they are the best team in Europe this season, but they are indisputably the best in Spain after wrapping up their fourth LaLiga title in five years and 26th overall on Saturday.
After beating Levante 1-0 at home, thanks to substitute Lionel Messi's 34th league goal of the term to take an unassailable nine-point lead over Atletico Madrid at the top of the table with three games to spare, the title race, in truth, has been a procession for the Catalan giants in recent history.
To put things into perspective, Real Madrid, who look set to finish a second consecutive season trailing the champions by double figures in terms of points, have now won the league only once in seven years.
But the faults of the Madrid clubs are not of Barca's doing, whose dominance of Spanish football was started by Pep Guardiola, consolidated under the late Tito Vilanova and Luis Enrique, and now cemented by Ernesto Valverde.
And, at the heart of their hegemony - having been crowned kings of Spain eight times in 11 years - lies one seminal figure: Messi.
Valverde's men, who celebrated their triumph with a lap of honour while wearing T-shirts bearing the slogan "Eight out of 11, the extraordinary seems normal", know that with their talismanic captain, anything is possible.
Lionel Messi has scored 24 goals as a substitute in LaLiga, more than any other player in the 21st century.
Points won by Barca from 34 goals scored by Messi, the most in the league this season.
Hailing him as "the centre of all our successes", the Barca coach said: "It's obvious that while he has been at Barca, the club have won a glut of trophies and league titles.
"If I had to give a name above anyone else, it has to be his. He marks our style and his competitive drive pushes everyone else forward.
"He has to stay active and he scores goals everywhere he goes and he has won us this title."
Sergio Busquets, who along with Gerard Pique and Messi are the only surviving members of Guardiola's historic treble-winning team of 2009, also hailed the Argentina forward as the "best player in the world".
The Spain midfielder, who picked up his eighth league title at the Nou Camp, said: "Barcelona are a great club, but we have made Barca even greater. What we have done over the last years will go down in history."
Barcelona have taken the first step in their bid to win a third treble in a decade - Enrique's team swept all domestic honours in 2016.
After their Champions League semi-final against Liverpool - the first leg in Spain will take place on Wednesday - when they will be bidding to reach the final of Europe's premier club competition for the first time since 2015, Valencia stand between them and the King's Cup, with the final on May 25.
Having achieved their "main objective", Valverde now wants to close out their season with another historic treble.
The Spaniard said: "In the Champions League, we will face a really strong rival and, in the King's Cup, our opponent is improving."
Croatia midfielder Ivan Rakitic agreed, joking that while he "had a beer", the celebrations will "not go over the top" as there was more silverware on the line.
He added: "When we wake up tomorrow, we have to think about Liverpool, who have an incredible team and a brilliant coach."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS