Messi treble seals 'special liga'

Lionel Messi celebrating Barcelona's LaLiga title win with his team-mates after they won 4-2 at Deportivo La Coruna on Sunday. Barcelona are four games away from finishing the season unbeaten in the league.
Lionel Messi celebrating Barcelona's LaLiga title win with his team-mates after they won 4-2 at Deportivo La Coruna on Sunday. Barcelona are four games away from finishing the season unbeaten in the league.PHOTO: REUTERS

But he rues hat-trick that could have been as Barca boss eyes 2019 Champions League title

MADRID • A seventh LaLiga title in 10 seasons to add to their King's Cup win last weekend is an outstanding achievement by all accounts. And Barcelona could still top that feat by becoming the first Spanish side to stay unbeaten in a league season.

Yet Lionel Messi could not help but wonder about the treble that could have been, despite saying Barca were "far superior" to their domestic rivals during their double-winning season, their third in four years.

Philippe Coutinho opened the scoring before the Argentina talisman scored a hat-trick, his 30th in the Spanish league, as Barca beat Deportivo La Coruna 4-2 away on Sunday. However, in a post-match interview, Messi referenced a black mark in their otherwise flawless campaign - blowing a 4-1 first-leg quarter-final lead to go out 4-4 on away goals in the Champions League to Roma last month.

"We have been far superior to our rivals," he told the club's TV channel, after Barca extended their record unbeaten streak to 41 LaLiga matches, four games away from becoming the "Invincibles".

"It's a very special Liga in that sense, because we haven't lost a single match. We've had some tough times and we've overcome everything without losing, which is unbelievable. We lost just one in the (first leg of the King's) Cup (quarter-final against Espanyol) and disappointingly another in the Champions League in Roma where we had a very unexpected result in view of our shape."

The five-time Ballon d'Or winner, who also leads the league's scoring charts with 32 goals this term, also took time to pay tribute to captain Andres Iniesta.

The Spain midfielder came off the bench in the 87th minute to make his 670th Barca appearance just three days after announcing that he was leaving the club at the end of the season.

DEPARTING WITH A DOUBLE

It's a shame... We deplore what happened in the Champions League, it prevented (Iniesta) from going out with a treble, but he's leaving in an impressive fashion.

LIONEL MESSI, Barcelona forward, on the club's missed opportunity at Roma in the Champions League quarter-finals.

"It's a shame for us and the club, but he deserved to go like that," said the 30-year-old. "We deplore what happened in the Champions League, it prevented him from going out with a treble, but he's leaving in an impressive fashion.

"This double is more than deserved for Andres, for all he has given to this club. I am very happy for him and wish him all the best."

Iniesta himself felt he was signing off at his boyhood club in style and was emotional after receiving a standing ovation from the home and visiting fans.

"This feels good. The championship is a competition that lasts all year, it is about consistency and the team deserved this title," he added.

"It has been a great season with the King's Cup and now LaLiga. These are indescribable emotions."

Ernesto Valverde's side have 86 points after 34 games, 11 more than second-placed Atletico Madrid and 15 more than rivals Real Madrid who are third in the standings.

"When you chase it (the league) all season, you say 'finally'. The league is very long. It is not decided only in a match. From the beginning, we have been in the lead. In the end, we were the best. The hard part is winning and winning," Valverde, who won his first league title as a manager, told marca.com.

"The elimination (by Roma) marked us a little bit because it was unexpected, but our trajectory has been extraordinary. There is always a small 'but', but we'll try again next year."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 01, 2018, with the headline 'Messi treble seals 'special liga''. Print Edition | Subscribe