Barcelona wasted no time in mathematically clinching their first La Liga title in four years, doing so in their first opportunity thanks to a dominant 4-2 win in the local derby against crosstown rivals Espanyol at Cornellà. Barça played 60 minutes of sublime football and wrapped up a brilliant victory to officially end the title race and start the celebrations for Xavi Hernández and his troops.
Here are the winners and losers from Sunday’s action:
Alejandro Balde: The young full-back started preseason as a loan candidate and finishes the year as the undisputed starter in the position going into the next campaign, and his performance on Sunday showcased everything that makes Balde such an exciting prospect: his pace and strength to deal with one-on-one duels at the back, and the constantly evolving of his attacking arsenal which resulted in a goal and an assist for the 19-year-old. Balde has proven he is absolutely fit to replace Jordi Alba as the owner of the left-back spot at Camp Nou for the next decade, and he shined bright in a big game as he has done so many times this season.
Jules Kounde: Even though he wants to be a full-time center-back and Barça should try their hardest to sign a really good right-back in the near future, Kounde cannot deny just how much he has improved offensively in his debut season with the Blaugrana playing in that spot. He was given the freedom by Xavi to bomb up and down the right wing against Espanyol’s back five and was a constant threat all night, and he scored an excellent header to cap off a fantastic 60-minute performance at right-back before he was moved to the middle once Ronald Araujo was substituted. Barça have bigger priorities than right-back in the summer market and Kounde might have to endure a few more months out of position, but if he continues to work and improve his game he will become an even more complete defender, which is in his best interest anyway.
Frenkie De Jong: With Sergio Busquets departing in the summer, Frenkie will inherit the honor of being the quiet dominant force of Barça’s midfield for years to come and has proven he’s absolutely up for the job. Even though the entire Barça midfield was excellent in the 60 minutes the Blaugrana actually took the game seriously, Frenkie was the best of them all. His passing was perfect, his assist to Kounde was otherworldly, and he made timely defensive interceptions to cut potentially dangerous attacks from the opposition at the source. Ronald Araujo called De Jong the best midfielder in the world in his post-match comments, and it’s starting to become hard to disagree. Frenkie is so incredibly complete now, and next season he’ll get to play his favorite position. Look out.
Honorable Mentions: Pedri, Ronald Araujo, Andreas Christensen
Espanyol: I strongly disagree with anyone who tries to claim Barça players and coaching staff were out of hand or trying to provoke Espanyol fans by celebrating the title they’d just won with themselves, by themselves, in the center of the pitch, far away from the individuals (who don’t deserve to be called fans) who eventually decided to bring a beautiful night to a shameful end. There is no excuse for their behaviour, and La Liga needs to act. Espanyol will likely be relegated and this will be the last image most fans around the world will remember, since very few people will care to watch their last four games after the embarrassing performance from the team on the night, especially in the first 60 minutes. It’s a shame.