Finally, it's official: FC Barcelona are champions of Spain for the third consecutive time. Even if on paper this looks like the easiest title of the Guardiola era, it's not like that at all. It was very, very difficult and required an immense effort from every player.
Barcelona were absolutely rampant in the first half of the season, dismantling Real Madrid at the Camp Nou and beating the records for points and goals at the end of the first half of the season. Villa, Messi and Pedro were all in stunning goal scoring form, and manitas became a habit around the Camp Nou.
However, around February, the inevitable happened. The core of the Barcelona side had won the World Cup in the summer with Spain. They had no holidays, and their physical and mental shape had obviously been affected by their huge World Cup efforts. In February, the effects began to be felt: The 5-0 became ground out wins, and what was supposed to be an easy Champions League tie against Arsenal became a hard-fought contest. Two away draws meant that Barcelona dropped four important points in the league after a record-breaking 16-match winning streak.
Things didn't look good for Barcelona, but Pep Guardiola knew exactly how to tackle the situation. The team showed great maturity and adapted to the circumstances; ball retention became even more prioritary, spectacular performances were replaced by more pragmatic ones. Puyol's long absence and Abidal's unfortunate situation only made matters even more difficult. Busquets and Mascherano showed their worth by performing well in the defense. The victories kept coming thanks to the huge effort and determination from the players, and the league title is here.
A lot of credit must go to the peerless Lionel Messi, who is having a season for the ages despite sacrificing himself hugely for the team. It'd be an understatement to say that his 31 goals and 18 assists contributed hugely for Barcelona's league success. The Argentine had to be the striker, playmaker, winger... you name it. And he stepped up and delivered in every occasion, playing week in, week out with no rest while also dragging Barcelona to the Champions League final.
It might seem unfair to single out one player, but the fact remains that without Messi, it'd all have been a lot more difficult. The Argentine was nothing short of immense the whole season. His great efforts will surely be recognized next January, where he'll certainly become the youngest player ever to win three Ballon d'Ors, thus taking one more step towards becoming the greatest footballer of all-time.
Iniesta, Xavi and Co. were also great, but they were clearly affected in the last few months by their herculean world cup effort. As Pep Guardiola said, they showed their character by overcoming those difficulties and helping Barcelona triumph.
Once again, humble, hard and honest work paid off, as Barcelona's mostly homegrown squad once again defeated the most expensive squad ever assembled to retain their Spanish title, knowing, however, that it will only get tougher next season.
This season, though, it's mission accomplished. Time for Messi, Xavi, Iniesta et al. to step back and give the youngsters an opportunity in the two final league matches, thus recharging batteries for the all important Champions League final at Wembley against English champions Manchester United. It will be the last effort for Barcelona players in a truly brilliant season before some very well earned holidays.
For now, it's time to celebrate. Barcelona are champions of Spain...again!
And what can be said about Pep Guardiola? Three domestic titles in three years as a professional coach, nine titles out of 12 contested (could soon be 10 out of 13). He might not be "special", but Guardiola is undoubtedly the most successful manager of the past few years.