The second verse of Atlético Madrid’s club anthem begins as such: “I’m going to the Manzanares, to the Vicente Calderón stadium.” There will be no more trekking to the river’s edge to watch Atlético play, but Diego Simeone’s men managed to bid a fond farewell to their 50-year-old ground with a stylish 3-1 win over Athletic Bilbao on Sunday.
Fernando Torres scored twice in the first 15 minutes, and Ángel Correa finished off a resilient Athletic Club in the dying moments as Atlético ended the 2016-17 season with a win at a rollicking Calderón.
Facing a litany of injuries and suspensions in defense, Simeone was forced to get creative with his team selection for this final match of the season. Saúl Ñíguez moved back into defense for the first time in more than a year, and he was joined by canteranos Thomas Partey (right back) and Lucas Hernández (center back) in the back four. The other notable change made by Simeone was a sentimental one, as Tiago, in his final appearance for Atlético, started in midfield and took the captain’s band for the first time in three years.
With such a makeshift side, you would not have been faulted for thinking that Atlético would struggle a bit against an Athletic side looking to clinch a place in next season’s Europa League. But this makeshift side still included Antoine Griezmann, and the Frenchman was instrumental in crafting Atleti’s opener.
Griezmann and Torres linked up for the opening goal on eight minutes as the former delivered a headed assist - created for him by a patented Tiago long ball - for the latter to slot in for his seventh league goal. And just three minutes later, El Niño made it a double feature, as he finished off a quick counterattack with an acrobatic finish. Torres picked up a Hollywood long ball from the foot of Yannick Carrasco and picked up Griezmann to his right. Griezmann then switched the play to Koke on the left, and he headed to Torres, who duly hit a pseudo-overhead kick to notch his brace.
The first half continued on without incident, as the fans chanted in reminiscence of club greats and held up a tifo in honor of Tiago.
Pues eso, Tiago que GRACIAS (que momento tan bonito y emocionante) pic.twitter.com/BHOTVSAGv2— Patricia Cazón (@PatriciaCazon) May 21, 2017
Atlético came rather close to adding a third early in the second half. Griezmann had the ball in the net but was declared offside while Carrasco saw two good chances fly wide. Athletic were able to pull one back with 20 minutes to go after finally breaching an organized Atleti defense; Iñaki Williams was credited with the goal after his shot deflected off Stefan Savić.
Following Williams’ fortunate strike, Athletic - needing one point to ensure Europa League football in 2017-18 - pushed forward in numbers for an equalizer. But on this day, Atlético would not be denied, and indeed los colchoneros would get a third on 89 minutes. Correa scored the final Atlético goal at the Calderón with his first touch after he smashed in a rebound following an initial Kepa save.
After the final whistle, an emotional ceremony took place honoring the Calderón and Atlético legends past and present. You can watch that ceremony in full below (it starts around the five-minute mark):
This was the perfect way to say goodbye to the Calderón: a win capped by two goals from a true club legend. Atlético finish the 2016-17 Liga Santander season with 78 points from 23 wins, nine draws and six defeats - a fifth consecutive 20-plus win season under Simeone. The three goals Sunday took Atlético’s total to 70 for the season - the first time since 2013-14 that Atleti have hit 70 in LaLiga. However, Atleti also end the season trophyless and face a summer of questions ahead of the highly-anticipated move to A Stadium Called Wanda.
ATLÉTICO MADRID: Jan Oblak; Thomas Partey (yellow card, 39’), Stefan Savić, Lucas Hernández, Saúl Ñíguez; Yannick Carrasco (Nico Gaitán, 70’), Gabi (yellow card, 45’ +1), Tiago (Ángel Correa, 88’), Koke; Antoine Griezmann, Fernando Torres (Kévin Gameiro, 63’)
ATHLETIC CLUB: Kepa Arrizabalaga; Óscar De Marcos, Aymeric Laporte, Yeray Álvarez, Mikel Balenziaga; Ander Iturraspe (Iñaki Williams, 46’), Mikel San José; Raúl García (Markel Susaeta, 57’), Beñat (Mikel Rico, 73’), Iker Muniain; Aritz Aduriz.
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