Rain kings Barcelona stay on course for 100 points

MADRID (AFP) - Barcelona celebrated lifting the La Liga trophy for a 22nd time with a 2-1 win over Valladolid on Sunday at a rain-lashed Camp Nou.

The wet conditions resulted in the lowest attendance for a Barca home league match this season as only 56,055 filled the 99,354 capacity ground.

However, first-half goals from Pedro Rodriguez and into his own net from Marc Valiente were enough to keep the champions on track to match Real Madrid's league record of 100 points before Victor Perez's penalty halved the deficit a minute from time.

And afterwards club captain Carles Puyol left it to manager Tito Vilanova and Eric Abidal, who have missed large parts of the season due to a cancerous saliva gland and a liver transplant respectively, to lift the trophy as a reward for all the health problems they have had to overcome off the field this season.

"It has been a difficult year, but we have won the league and the best thing is that Tito and Abidal are with us," said Puyol.

"I want to thank you all for your confidence and support in the good and bad moments," added Vilanova as he addressed the crowd.

"Without the fans all this wouldn't have any meaning." Given the injuries to Lionel Messi and Dani Alves, Vilanova sent out about as strong a starting line-up as he could with Victor Valdes and Javier Mascherano returning after a number of weeks out through injury.

However, given the stormy conditions and general lack of atmosphere, it took some time for Barca to get going.

They did manage to make the breakthrough with virtually their first clear opening on 20 minutes though as Xavi recovered possession in midfield and surged forward before feeding Pedro and his low shot slipped under Jaime Jimenez who ought to have done better to keep it out.

Oscar Gonzalez then wasted a decent opening to get the visitors back into the game at the other end, but he dribbled a disappointing effort into Valdes' arms from range when he seemed to have a clear run on goal.

Andres Iniesta saw a deflected effort loop just over as Barca began to up the tempo with their short passing game before the break, but their second goal arrived in somewhat fortunate circumstances as the wet conditions contributed to Valiente slicing Xavi's corner into his own net.

Xavi tested Jaime with a low skidding effort that the keeper handled well with the first effort of the second period and Pedro really ought to have registered his second of the evening when he blasted over from Cesc Fabregas' cut-back just after the hour mark.

Jaime then made fine saves from Martin Montoya and David Villa to keep the score down, whilst Pedro failed to hit the target with another guilt-edged opportunity nine minutes from time.

Valladolid were handed a consolation in the 89th minute when with practically their first attack of the second-half Montoya brought down Manucho inside the area and Perez converted the resulting penalty.

At the bottom there was a huge win for Deportivo La Coruna as goals from Bruno Gama and Nelson Oliveira saw them beat Espanyol 2-0 to move out of the relegation zone.

Real Zaragoza now occupy the third relegation place after they conceded two late goals to lose 2-1 to Athletic Bilbao.

Manolo Jimenez's men are now a point behind Deportivo with just two games remaining.

And earlier Rayo Vallecano beat Levante 3-2 in an entertaining encounter to move into eighth.

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