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Koke caps third-place Atlético’s topsy-turvy Liga campaign

The captain continued to move up in the record book as he helped extend Atlético’s unbeaten run to 18 games.

Club Atletico de Madrid v Real Sociedad - La Liga Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images

The game ended poorly for Atlético Madrid, but hosts and visitors alike will be satisfied with Sunday night’s season finale.

Koke’s first-half goal was enough to clinch another top-three finish for Los Colchoneros, while Adnan Januzaj’s free kick just two minutes from time allowed Real Sociedad to enter next season’s Europa League at the group stage.

Atlético’s attack fizzled out after the hour mark, but the game’s one brilliant build-up resulted in the goal to grab third place. It’s fitting that the captain got it, as he took a neat little Álvaro Morata backheel and absolutely drilled the ball through some chaos beyond former teammate Miguel Ángel Moyà. And for almost an hour, it looked like that strike would stand.

Club Atletico de Madrid v Real Sociedad - La Liga Photo by Alejandro Rios/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

However, Yannick Carrasco and Ángel Correa saw Moyà stop decent-enough chances, and Atlético — having played 11 games in 35 days — grew tired. La Real took command, working cleanly around a Thomas-less midfield and forcing Jan Oblak into two fingertip stops. But Januzaj won a free kick on the left-hand side, struck it low, and saw it bounce in (through what looked like a deflection off Héctor Herrera).

Atletico De Madrid V Real Sociedad - La Liga Photo by Irina RH / AFP7 / Europa Press Sports via Getty Images

However, both sets of players got what they came for. In Atlético’s case, it was all about third place (and now having to sweat out a possible hamstring problem for Thomas). Diego Simeone’s men won less than half their league games and drew a club-record 16 times, but only champions Real Madrid lost fewer games. Los Rojiblancos still reached 70 points for the eighth straight season, and still boasted a top defense with only Madrid conceding fewer goals — even though they scored only 51 goals themselves.

Meanwhile, Koke surpassed longtime right back Carlos Aguilera with his 456th appearance, his 317th in LaLiga. He’s on track to break Adelardo’s storied mark of 551 appearances in a couple years. Plus, it was his return to action against Granada in February which keyed this lengthy unbeaten run — and thus, this successful sprint to the finish line.

Club Atletico de Madrid v Real Sociedad - La Liga Photo by Alejandro Rios/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

Finally — it was a night to look back and to look forward. Moyà and Oblak battled for starting duties five-plus years ago, and both played well. Most prominently, Atlético said farewell to assistant coach Germán Burgos, who served his final league game as Simeone’s lieutenant before he heads out on his path.

But in the other direction, Atlético debuted next season’s threads (about which I’m still on the fence) and now get to focus firmly on Ol’ Big Ears. After six days off, Cholo and co. will travel to traditional summertime home Los Ángeles de San Rafael to begin preparations for its Champions League quarterfinal against RB Leipzig — in Lisbon on Aug. 13.

ATM XI Oblak; Trippier (Giménez 78’), Felipe, Savić, Lodi; Thomas (Carrasco 57’), Herrera, Koke, Vitolo (Correa 57’); Costa (Félix 57’), Morata (Llorente 65’)

Goal Koke 30’

RSO XI Moyà; Le Normand, Llorente (Elustondo 45’), Zubeldia; Gorosabel (Barrenetxea 45’), Zubimendi, Merino, Monreal; Ødegaard (Portu 64’), Oyarzabal (Januzaj 79’); Isak (Willian José 63’)

Goal Januzaj 88’