The 2011-12 La Liga season is really the story of two exceptional, if extremely different personalities. The first star of the campaign was one Lionel Andres Messi, who tore up the record books with perhaps the most phenomenal year ever seen by an individual on a football pitch. Thanks to the influence of one 'special' adversary, however, even La Pulga's very best was not quite enough.
For on the other side of the Clasico divide, Jose Mourinho was running the show. The Portuguese coach clinched La Liga with Real Madrid in a near-perfect term, picking up 100 points as he outshined even a tired Pep Guardiola who was coming to the end of his historic Barcelona spell. The former Chelsea and Inter boss was ably assisted by his on-pitch lieutenant Cristiano Ronaldo, who had started to show the kind of form that would transform him into Messi's eternal rival for the Ballon d'Or every coming December.
The start of the 2011-12 Liga campaign was scheduled for 20th August only for the kick-off to be delayed by a player strike due to unpaid wages throughout the top league and the Segunda. Thankfully, everyone took to the pitch the next week. Before the start of the season, no less than seven clubs changed their head coach - Atletico Madrid, Real Sociedad, Sevilla, Getafe, Racing, Levante, and Athletic Bilbao. Mourinho brought in Fabio Coentrao, Raphael Varane, Nuri Sahin, and Jose Calljon in for his title assault, while Barcelona welcomed back Cesc Fabregas from Arsenal as well as signing exciting winger, Alexis Sanchez, from Udinese. Not to be left out, Atletico also made some key acquisitions. Potent centre-forward Radamel Falcao was chosen to replace Manchester City-bound Sergio Aguero, and Arda Turan came in to provide some midfield flair. However, it was the purchase of Gabi from Real Zaragoza which proved the most vital, as he would go on to become the inspiration club captain of Los Colchoneros. Real Betis, Rayo Vallecano, and Granada were the promoted sides.
Having led the Blancos to a respectable second place in his debut season in Spain, Mourinho was determined to go one better as tensions with Barcelona reached historic new heights. Indeed, the tone for the season had been set right from the off, in the Supercopa: Barca won that tie 5-4 on aggregate, but the headlines were dominated by a pitchside scuffle provoked by Marcelo's sending off and in which Mourinho was accused of poking Pep's assistant Tito Vilanova in the eye.
On the field, however, things were looking good, and Madrid laid down a statement of intent in the very first round of La Liga as Ronaldo hit a hat-trick in a 6-0 demolition of Zaragoza.
The wins and goals kept coming for the Merengue, despite an early upset at the hands of lowly Levante. Mourinho's team took over the summit in the 10th round and negotiated the entire first half of the season, although a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Barcelona at the Santiago Bernabeu in December brought the Catalans closer to their rivals in the table and raised doubts over the resilience of the leaders as the season entered its decisive stages.
I won the league title in Portugal, Italy and England, but this one has been the toughest. I've won seven league titles overall and I know what it feels like. Barcelona won all their games, as befits the great team that they are. They've been winning to the very last day.Jose Mourinho
Those doubts were answered emphatically with an almost perfect second half of the campaign, and Madrid would not lose another game after their Clasico disappointment. Revenge was inflicted at Camp Nou with a 2-1 win, one of 16 wins taken in their last 19 games that assured that the title was won at a canter.
Not that Barca were especially poor: the Blaugrana's points haul of 91 would in most normal seasons be sufficient to earn the crown, but in 2011-12 it only served to grab a distant second behind their arch-rivals.
Elsewhere in La Liga Valencia finished no less than 30 points shy of Barcelona, a tally that was nevertheless good enough to make the Champions League for the following season. There were also two new faces on the bench, as Marcelo Bielsa and Diego Simeone turned heads at Athletic and Atletico Madrid respectively and each leading their side to a Europa League berth. At the other end of the table there was heartbreak for Villarreal, who were relegated just one year after making it to the Europa League semi-finals in a thrilling cup run.
PLAYER OF THE SEASON
MANAGER OF THE SEASON
The decision to award the Barca coach perhaps owed more to nostalgia on the part of the LFP than to an objective assessment, as he was beaten fair and square over the course of 2011-12 by a rampant Mourinho. Pep's contribution to Barcelona and Spanish football as a whole in his four seasons as Blaugrana coach, however, was immeasurable, and the prize was a fitting send-off as he set off on his sabbatical having resigned from the Camp Nou hotseat.
LIONEL MESSI - 50 GOALS
Only one player has scored 50 or more goals in a single season in a major European league. Leo Messi.
TEAM OF THE SEASON
GOAL OF THE SEASON
KARIM BENZEMA waits patiently at the back post before latching on to a Ronaldo cross to fire a Marco-van-Basten-esque volley across goal into the top corner.
MOST EXPENSIVE TRANSFER
Porto to Atletico Madrid
KEY MOMENT OF THE SEASON
Key moment: Cristiano Ronaldo drawing Victor Valdes out of his net and stabbing home to silence the Camp Nou and seal a 2-1 Clasico victory for Madrid, all but ensuring La Liga would return to the capital.