Barcelona closed in on the La Liga title on Saturday after earning a hard-fought 2-1 win over Real Sociedad at the Nou Camp, with goals from defenders Clement Lenglet and Jordi Alba restoring their nine-point lead at the top of the table.
Barca lead the standings on 77 points after 33 games, comfortably clear of nearest challengers Atletico Madrid who won 1-0 at Eibar earlier in the day.
French centre back Lenglet scored his first league goal for the Catalans to break the deadlock against the stubborn visitors right at the end of the first half with a crashing header from Ousmane Dembele’s corner.
“Today was a bit of struggle because we were coming into the game on the back of a huge effort (in their Champions League quarterfinals win over Manchester United) but we continued on the same path,” Alba said. “We were better in the second half. I’m happy with how the season’s going and with my goal.”
Sociedad were rewarded for their intelligent display when forward Juanmi equalised in the 62nd minute, sliding in to meet an incisive pass from Mikel Merino and diverting it past Barca’s Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
But Barca hit back almost immediately when Lionel Messi picked out Alba, who did his best impression of the Argentine by cutting in from the left wing and producing a magnificent curling finish into the top corner.
The Catalans will be crowned champions for the 26th time if they beat Alaves on Tuesday and Levante next Saturday. They could clinch the title as soon as Wednesday if they win against Alaves and Atletico lose to Valencia.
“In three days we have to play again. We have to forget the nine point lead and thing about the next game,” Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde. “It’s the final phase of the season and everything is definitive, but the opposition oblige us to be at our best all the time. No one is going to give us anything.”
Along with the potential clinching of La Liga, the Catalans must prepare for their looming Champions League semifianals tie with Liverpool.
“I can’t plan too much thinking about Liverpool. You never know what’s going to happen,” Valverde said. “I knew what side I was going to pick today. It’s possible there will be changes (against Alaves) but we have to win our next game because the one after that catches us in the buiuld-up to the Champions League. You don’t know how (you’re going to win) but you always have to win.”
Valverde also downplayed the smattering of whistles directed by Phillippe Coutinho, who has received criticism for his celebration toward fans after scoring in the Manchester United match.
“The Coutinho (whistles) are more to do with all the noise that’s been generated because of his celebration the other day,”Valverde said. “It’s anecdotal more than anything but everything that happens at our club is given too much importance. I don’t think there were many whistles, there are a lot of people that recognise his hard work. The fans are with Coutinho and Coutinho is with the fans.”
Information from Reuters and ESPN FC’s Sam Marsden was used in this report.