Barcelona and Lionel Messi Dominate La Liga in 2018


Evening Standard

Barcelona and Lionel Messi Dominate La Liga in 2018 as Real Madrid Play Catch-up Again

LaLiga has not yet reached its halfway stage, but Barcelona lead the way again as the competition heads into its winter break.
Barca beat Celta Vigo 2-0 on Sunday with goals from Ousmane Dembele and Lionel Messi to move three points clear at the top of the table after 17 rounds of matches. Despite something of an inconsistent season so far, Ernesto Valverde’s side have tightened up in recent weeks and have now kept four cleans sheets in a row, having failed to do so for over three months prior to that. Those four wins – against Villarreal, Espanyol, Levante and Celta – brought 13 goals for the Blaugrana without reply and see the champions finish the year exactly where they began it: on top of the table.
Barca have dominated the competition in 2018. The Catalans won 14, drew six and lost one (their only league defeat of the season) between January and May to claim the title, finishing 14 points ahead of Atletico Madrid. And Diego Simeone’s side, 1-0 winners over Espanyol on Saturday, are their closest rivals this time around as well, three points adrift of the Catalans. So far in 2018-19, Barca have won 11, drawn four and lost two.
Overall in 2018, Valverde’s side have claimed 85 points in LaLiga, which is eight more than Atletico (77) and 11 better than Real Madrid (74).
Real have played one fewer fixture in the competition this term, due to their participation in the Club World Cup which they won on Saturday, but Los Blancos also featured in that tournament last year and therefore turned out in an extra match in March.
Santiago Solari’s side are in fourth place in the table at the moment, eight points adrift of Barca, but with that game in hand over their fierce rivals which will be made up away to Villarreal on January 3rd.
Elsewhere, Sevilla missed the chance to move level with Atletico on 34 points. Pablo Machin’s men were held to a 1-1 draw at Leganes on Sunday and finish the year in third place. Valencia beat bottom club Huesca on Sunday, thanks to a last-minute winner from Cristiano Piccini at Mestalla which saw Marcelino’s side move into the top half of the table and despite their slow start to the season (they have drawn 10 games), they are now just four points behind fourth-placed Betis.
Huesca seem stranded at the bottom with just eight points from their 17 games, while Rayo Vallecano are also in trouble with 13 but did boost their hopes of survival by beating Levante 2-1 on Sunday. Villarreal are third from bottom on 15 points and although the Yellow Submarine have a game in hand, it is against Real Madrid. Above them, Athletic Club are also in danger of relegation in what has been a desperate campaign for the Basque outfit so far. They were held to a 1-1 draw by Valladolid on Saturday. Above those teams, there are a number of others who will be scrambling for safety at the end of the season, but Barca are again in control at the top of the table. Asked for a special wish for the New Year, Valverde said: “I would like to say I have thought of something witty, but us coaches are more relaxed if we win and everyone around us is as well. I’d like the fans to be happy with us, and to be winning.” And he added: “There is still a long way to go. Madrid have a game in hand, they are an important rival and there is a lot left to play.” As so often in recent seasons, however, Real are left to play catch-up again in LaLiga and it is Barca and Messi who will be the ones to beat in the league in 2019

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