With the intensity of their rivalry unwavering, Real Madrid CF and FC Barcelona continued to break Spanish top-flight records in the 2011/12 campaign, but it was the Merengues who secured the Liga title for the first time in four years as coach José Mourinho added to the championship honours he previously won in Portugal, England and Italy. His counterpart Josep Guardiola, meanwhile, decided to call an end to his reign at the Barcelona helm – and there was another farewell for former UEFA Champions League semi-finalists Villarreal CF, who dropped down a division.
Champions: Real Madrid CF
There may have been a touch of the familiar to the 2011/12 Liga title race, yet the several pretenders to Barça's throne took note when both the reigning champions and Mourinho's aspirants dropped early-season points to unlikely opponents. Madrid responded strongly, but, after opening up a league lead over a Barça side who slipped up against Athletic Club and Getafe CF, they found themselves trailing on goal difference when Guardiola's men claimed a 3-1 Clásico win at the Santiago Bernabéu in December.
Unperturbed, the Madrid machine kicked in from the moment they retook the lead thanks to a game in hand. Despite showing brief signs of nerves with three draws late on, the Merengues remained unbeaten in the second half of the season to seal a 32nd Liga title that was made all the sweeter thanks to a 2-1 victory at the Camp Nou in April.
Cup final: Athletic Club 0-3 FC Barcelona
In his final game in charge of Barcelona, Guardiola guided the club to its 26th Copa del Rey with the Azulgrana producing a trademark first-half attacking display to see off Athletic at the Estadio Vicente Calderón. Sensing the end of the coach's four-year reign at the helm of the Catalan giants, Barça surged into a 3-0 lead midway through the opening half, with Pedro Rodríguez scoring either side of Lionel Messi's 73rd club goal this term. The Leones enjoyed the better of the chances after the break but could do little to deny Guardiola a 14th trophy since the 41-year-old took the post in 2008.
Real Madrid CF – UEFA Champions League, group stage
FC Barcelona - UEFA Champions League, group stage
Valencia CF - UEFA Champions League, group stage
Málaga CF - UEFA Champions League, play-off
Club Atlético de Madrid – UEFA Europa League, group stage
Levante UD – UEFA Europa League play-offs
Athletic Club – UEFA Europa League third qualifying round
*Subject to final confirmation from UEFA
Player of the Year: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid CF)
At the end of the 2010/11 campaign, Ronaldo admitted that it would be difficult to repeat his then record haul of 40 Liga goals. The Portuguese attacker surpassed that mark this term with 46 strikes in 38 appearances and, although he fell four short in his personal duel with Lionel Messi, there is little doubt that the 27-year-old's all-round contribution played a significant role in his team's title success. On 20 occasions, the former Manchester United FC forward gave Madrid the lead in the Liga, while his goals dragged the team back from a losing position a further four times. A 73rd-minute winning strike against Barça at the Camp Nou all but sealed Madrid's title success.
One to watch: Óscar de Marcos (Athletic Club)
Having failed to cement a regular starting place at Athletic following his arrival from Deportivo Alavés in 2009, 23-year-old De Marcos flourished under coach Marcelo Bielsa, whose energetic, high-pressing tactics became one of the stories of the season. Displaying quick feet and intelligence on either flank as well as through the centre, the former Spanish youth international managed four goals in 34 games as the Leones finished tenth.
Surprise package: Levante UD
Boasting one of the smallest budgets in the top flight, and with a squad made up of seasoned veterans and players with plenty to prove, Levante bore all the hallmarks of a side preparing to struggle for survival. However, under the leadership of newly appointed coach Juan Ignacio Martínez, or JIM, and 36-year-old captain Sergio Ballesteros, the Valencia-based side stunned a nation by defeating eventual champions Madrid early in the campaign before going on to lead the standings for the first time in the club's history. Victory against Athletic on the final day of the season led to a sixth-place finish and another first for Levante: a place in next season's UEFA Europa League.
Leading scorer: Lionel Messi, FC Barcelona (50)
Relegated: Real Racing Club, Real Sporting de Gijón, Villarreal CF
Promoted: RC Deportivo La Coruña, RC Celta de Vigo and Real Valladolid CF
In a season of startling statistics such as Madrid's record Liga haul of 121 goals or the team's 100-point title-winning total, it is difficult to look past Barça's Lionel Messi, who managed a standard-setting half-century of goals in Spain's top tier.
"It was a hard thing winning league titles in Portugal, England and Italy, but this was the hardest of them all. This was truly one to celebrate. I had my brief moments with the players afterwards, but from now the hard work continues because I feel next season will be just as difficult." Madrid coach José Mourinho after his team sealed the title with victory in Bilbao.
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