Barca keeps bid for 100 points alive
BARCELONA, Spain (AP)
While rain and dropping temperatures threatened to dampen the party in the stands, Barcelona had little trouble keeping alive its bid to equal Real Madrid's 2012 record haul of 100 points even without the injured Lionel Messi.
The weather cleared up in time for Messi to join the rest of his teammates to receive the trophy, which captain Carles Puyol handed over for coach Tito Vilanova and defender Eric Abidal to lift to the cheers of the Camp Nou crowd in recognition of the serious health problems both have come back from this season.
''We won the league, but the most important thing is that Eric and Tito are with us,'' said Puyol, before adding the traditional battle cry of ''Long live Barca! And long live Catalonia!''
Vilanova underwent surgery in December to remove a second throat tumor in two years, and only returned after receiving further cancer treatment for 10 weeks in New York. He is set to return to New York this week for more tests.
Abidal, meanwhile, returned to the pitch recently after having recovered from a liver transplant last year.
''From all of us, it is a real pleasure to share this title with you,'' Vilanova told the fans. ''It was gone for one year, but now it is back.''
While Barcelona had trouble in the Champions League and was eliminated from the Copa del Rey with Vilanova absent, the team never faltered in its march toward a 22nd league title as it dethroned Jose Mourinho's Madrid.
''We are proud of this title but we are also proud of (Vilanova and Abidal),'' said Barcelona midfielder Xavi Hernandez. ''They deserve it for having fought back to be here.''
Messi held baby son Thiago in his arms to watch the firework show alongside his teammates and their children in a subdued celebration for a team that has now won the domestic crown in four of the past five years.
Vilanova's side has 94 points and games left against Espanyol and Malaga to reach the 100-point milestone held by its fierce rivals.
''We are happy for the win. It's a great joy to celebrate the title with our fans,'' said Pedro Rodriguez, who scored Barcelona's first goal. ''We wanted to give a good image tonight and we're happy we were able to do so.
''We have the motivation to reach the 100 points, which would be something important for this team.''
Barcelona received a guard of honor from Valladolid at the start of the match, and then kept on strolling to the comfortable win as its fans sporadically chanted ''champions! champions!'' throughout the match. Valladolid offered little resistance after having long secured a second consecutive season in the top flight.
With Messi out after aggravating a hamstring injury, Xavi took charge and played a part in both of Barcelona's goals.
Xavi stole a pass from defender Jesus Rueda and laid the ball off for Pedro to slot it under goalkeeper Jaime Jimenez while sliding to the turf for the 21st-minute opener. Valladolid's Marc Valiente then bumbled Xavi's corner over his own goal line to double the lead three minutes before halftime.
After Barcelona had squandered its chances, Victor Perez scored Valladolid's consolation goal one minute from time after Barcelona defender Martin Montoya fouled Manucho in the area.
Perez rifled his penalty by Victor Valdes, who was making his 500th appearance for Barcelona and possibly one of his last. He has said he won't extend his contract beyond the end of next season, meaning the club may look to sell him in the offseason.
Barcelona was without defenders Dani Alves, Adriano, and Abidal due to muscle-related injuries. Defender Javier Mascherano, however, returned for his first game since injuring his right knee on April 2, the same date that Messi picked up his injury that has nagged him ever since.
Elsewhere on Sunday, Francisco ''Piti'' Medina scored a double as Rayo Vallecano won 3-2 at Levante to stay in the hunt for a Europa League berth.
Deportivo La Coruna beat visiting Espanyol 2-0 to escape the relegation zone, with Real Zaragoza taking its place after conceding two late goals to fall 2-1 to Athletic Bilbao. After a disappointing season, Bilbao's comeback victory secured its place in the top flight with two rounds to go.