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LA LIGA

The king is still in the building as Granada rages over Aragonese ref

Guardiola’s farewell airbrushed by Messi’s four-goal destruction of Espanyol

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Barcelona's players celebrate with coach Josep Guardiola after scoring a goal against Espanyol.

An emotional farewell at Camp Nou as Pep Guardiola took his leave of the club was tempered somewhat by a four-goal haul from Leo Messi to secure a derby win over Espanyol on Saturday; the end of one era with the caveat that another is still being etched into history.

Messi’s quadruple took his league tally for the season to 50 — the Argentinean had already smashed Gerd Müller’s 1972–73 record of 67 all-competition goals in a single European season — and his legacy at Barcelona will likely run deeper than Guardiola’s. Incoming coach Tito Vilanova need do little more than maintain the status quo, and perhaps tweak his squad a little during the summer. La Masia will provide most of Barcelona’s immediate needs, and the return of David Villa will be like a new signing. A new left-back to replace Éric Abidal, possibly Valencia’s Jordi Alba, may be Vilanova’s only concern.

In the meantime, Messi has wrapped up the Pichichi goal-scorer title, scant consolation but better than naught for the club’s prestige, while Guardiola’s swansong will be the King’s Cup final and a potential 14th trophy of a glorious reign. In broader terms, Guardiola’s guidance has taken Barça to the top of the all-time European cup winners’ list — of all shapes and sizes admittedly — with 15, three more than Real. Of those, Guardiola won four, during which time Real has been continentally potless.

Below the top two, Valencia secured third for the third successive season with a 1-0 win over local rival Villarreal, which must get something from the visit of Atlético to ensure survival. The rojiblancos took a step toward the fourth Champions League spot with a 2-1 win over direct rival Málaga. The Anchovies, on 55 points, have home advantage in the final round against 19th-placed Sporting, which will escape relegation only through intervention of the divine or bundles-in-a-suitcase kind. Levante fell out of the European places for only the second time since week four after losing 1-0 at Mallorca.

He is the same referee that suspended the game when a kid’s umbrella snapped"

Real Madrid’s march to the title has not been without controversy — Guardiola and José Mourinho are still at each other’s throats in the press room — and the league winner’s match against Granada was no exception, even if the merengues had nothing to do with it.

Granada, fighting relegation in a tightly contested finish at the bottom, would have been safe if it had held on to the 1-0 advantage gained after just five minutes through a wonderful Franco Jara solo effort. But with fewer than 10 minutes remaining, Moisés inexplicably grappled Cristiano Ronaldo to the floor as though playing rugby, giving the Portuguese a chance to convert from the spot that he took with Pichichi-chasing aplomb. Still, it seemed that Granada would hold on for a precious point until David Cortés’ calamitous own goal on 93 minutes. Granada will now be in the sweaty-palmed relegation mix on the final day.

“The fairest result would have been a tie,” noted Mourinho mouthpiece Aitor Karanka. His bonhomie was not shared by Granada: “They should build a monument to [referee] Clós [Gómez] in Zaragoza,” stormed club president Quique Pina. His players followed a similar line: “It’s a disgrace that an Aragonés should referee the match,” shouted Iñigo López into a reporter’s microphone. Gómez is a native of Zaragoza, one of Granada’s direct rivals. “He is the same referee that suspended the game when a kid’s umbrella snapped and that, when it was restarted, gave a penalty against us,” said Pina. Granada was beating Mallorca 2-1 when a match official was hit by an object. It transpired it was an umbrella supposedly discharged upon opening by a child in the crowd. When the game was restarted behind closed doors three weeks later, Gómez denied Granada a penalty. Final result: 2-2.

“We talked about Gómez being from Zaragoza during the week. He already had it in mind,” said Pina. “If they had sent a referee from Granada to Zaragoza, they would not have won.” As it was, Zaragoza did win, as it seeks an unlikely escape on the back of three straight victories. Granada and Rayo will play each other for survival on Sunday, while Zaragoza travels to Getafe in search of the coup de grâce.

Other results: Athletic 0-0 Getafe; Sevilla 5-2 Rayo; Sporting 2-1 Betis; Osasuna 1-0 Sociedad.