Unbeatable defence, Lewandowski's goals and Xavi's faith in youth - How Barca won La Liga

Barcelona clinched the 2022/23 La Liga title on Sunday with a 4-2 win at neighbours Espanyol

Barcelona forward Robert Lewandowski, right, celebrates scoring the opening goal in a 4-2 win over Espanyol that clinched the 2022/23 La Liga title. AFP
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Barcelona clinched the 2022/23 La Liga title on Sunday with a 4-2 win at neighbours Espanyol.

It was the first trophy under manager Xavi, who took charge of the club he graced as a player in November 2021.

Here is a closer look at how the Catalans secured a 27th Spanish title and a first since 2019.

Impenetrable defence

A club known for their flowing attacking football secured this season's La Liga title with four games to spare based on a rock-solid defence and a goalkeeper who elevated himself to elite level.

Barcelona's defence has been breached a mere 13 times in 34 league games – making them by far the meanest defence in the division. As a comparison, second-placed Real Madrid have conceded 32 goals, while Atletico Madrid, currently third, have the second best defensive record with 27 goals against.

Xavi bolstered his rearguard last summer with the acquisitions of Andreas Christensen on a free transfer from Chelsea and paying Sevilla €50 million for the versatile Jules Kounde.

Both have been standouts in Barca's title charge, while centre-back Ronald Araujo has staked his claim to be considered one of the best defenders in the world.

Teenager Alejandro Balde has replaced the ageing Jordi Alba at left-back but not to the detriment of Barca's attacking philosophy. Spain international Balde was on target in Barca's 4-2 win at Espanyol that clinched the title.

Goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen has found confidence and form again, with Barcelona yet to concede at home from open play all season, bar an Araujo own goal against Real Madrid.

The German has kept 25 clean sheets so far this season. T the all-time league record is 26, set by Deportivo La Coruna in 1993/94.

The Galician side and Atletico Madrid share the record for fewest goals conceded in a 38-game season, 18 – a figure Barcelona could beat with four games remaining.

Lewandowski's goals

Lionel Messi's departure in the summer of 2021 due to Barca's financial problems left a huge hole up front, but the Catalans addressed that by making Robert Lewandowski their marquee summer arrival.

The Polish forward, signed from Bayern Munich for €45 million, hit the ground running at Camp Nou before injury disrupted his campaign.

During an 11-match spell between August and October, Lewandowski scored 13 goals to send Barcelona into the winter break at the top of La Liga.

The 34-year-old's brace against Espanyol took his La Liga tally to 21 – most in the division – and he still has four games to add to it.

With the pace on the flanks of Ousmane Dembele and Raphinha, Lewandowski's killer instinct in front of goal has made Barcelona an attacking force again. Only Real Madrid (70) have outscored Barca (64).

Faith in youth

Xavi's trust in his younger player has paid huge dividends.

The form of 19-year-old Balde has meant the phasing out of Alba has been painless while in midfield Xavi probably sees plenty of himself in the polished performances of gifted 18-year-old Gavi.

At 20, Pedri assumes the role of elder statesman in the midfield engine room. Both are tipped for huge futures at both Barcelona and in the Spain national team. With captain Sergio Busquets leaving this summer, both will assume a greater roles next season when Barca defend their title and attempt to re-establish themselves at the top table of European football – the Champions League – following two successive group-stage exits.

Ansu Fati, another 20-year-old, has found opportunities hard to come by but has shown in the past he can add an extra dimension to Barca's attack.

To illustrate just how much faith he places in youth, Xavi made Lamine Yamal, a 15-year-old graduate from the club's famed La Maisa academy, the club's youngest ever first-team player when he brought him on as substitute in a 4-0 win over Real Betis.

"He does not have a clear profile, he is a born talent,' Xavi said of the Spanish-born midfielder. "Young people are not afraid, unlike before. The new generations try and have a terrible self-confidence. This is what I see in Lamine."

Updated: May 15, 2023, 7:56 AM