Atlético Madrid will win LaLiga on Saturday evening if Diego Simeone’s troops overcome relegation-threatened Real Valladolid in the season finale.
Atlético (25-8-4, 83 points) could have lifted the trophy last Sunday if Real Madrid (24-9-4, 81 points) lost or drew, but los blancos won in Bilbao to push the title race to the last day.
It’s all come down to this.
“Two teams are fighting for different goals (in this game), and both will give their lives to reach their goals,” Diego Simeone said Friday.
Atlético are no strangers to this situation — nine of the club’s previous 10 league titles weren’t clinched until the final matchday, and Atleti depended on its own result to win on eight occasions.
Valladolid (5-16-16, 31 points) appear to be on the way back to Segunda after three consecutive seasons in LaLiga. Sergio’s side need to win and hope Elche and Huesca fail to do so in order to stay up. It’s going to take some doing — Pucela are winless in the past 11, have won the fewest games in the league and kept the fewest clean sheets (three) as well.
Atlético have won 10 of 11 meetings with Valladolid dating back to 2010.
Here’s how Atleti can avoid a shock and wrap up the title.
Make early chances count
Atlético have won three of four games this month, and los colchoneros were the better team over the first 45 minutes in each one. The Elche and La Real victories were basically decided in that first half — even though Atleti nearly gave away both games late.
Simeone’s men took 16 first half shots versus Osasuna and hit two posts. They scored two offside goals in the second half before actually falling behind. Against Valladolid, Atlético will have to transfer over that energy, that intensity, and take command right away.
Given the team has 20-goal scorer Luis Suárez, and in-form complementary pieces such as Ángel Correa and Yannick Carrasco (four goals/five assists in eight games) — not to mention the league’s top-scoring midfielder in Marcos Llorente — they should be able to create chances early and often.
A strong José Giménez
On May 17, 2014, 19-year-old José Giménez looked on from the stands as Diego Godín struck a bouncing header past Barcelona goalkeeper José Pinto to seal Atlético Madrid’s miraculous title triumph.
Seven years later, Giménez will start this final at the José Zorrilla, trying to replicate what his Uruguay teammate and mentor did seven years ago — command this defense to a title-winning performance.
Atlético are 14-4-1 when Giménez starts this season, and he’ll make his 20th league start on Saturday — the first time he’s hit that number since 2015/16. Now 26, the incredibly-talented center back hasn’t been able to deliver on the massive potential he showed as a teenager. Josema has cut from his game the errors that used to define him, and his improvement as a passer in 2019/20 was no fluke (he’s hit on 88 percent of his passes in back-to-back seasons). But injuries have slowed him down once again.
Atlético are going to suffer on Saturday. Valladolid have won eight penalties this season and converted seven — the hosts will be opportunistic. There will be periods when los colchoneros will be under pressure (don’t act like there won’t be).
The man who inherited Godín’s #2 shirt, back after a three-week absence, will need to shine brightest in these situations.
Win the set-piece battle
This doesn’t mean “make the initial clearance and you’re golden.”
No team in LaLiga has taken a higher percentage of shots outside the penalty area than Valladolid (47 percent). Atlético have allowed the highest percentage of outside-the-box shots relative to total shots (48 percent). The Blanquivioletas have scored only twice from long-range opportunities this season, but golazos from distance have been a staple to their game since their return to LaLiga — they scored 14 goals from beyond 18 yards the past two seasons.
Atlético have struggled to defend set pieces on certain occasions this season, and those lapses can’t reappear Saturday.
State of the squad The suspended Stefan Savić and the injured Thomas Lemar are unavailable but are named in the squad.
Date May 22, 2021
Location Estadio Nuevo José Zorrilla, Valladolid, Castile and León
Kickoff time 6:00 p.m. CEST, 5:00 p.m. BST, 12:00 p.m. EST, 9:00 p.m. PST
Available TV/streaming Movistar Partidazo (Spain), DIRECTV Play Deportes (Argentina), QQ Sports Live (China), beIN Sports HD 2 (Palestine), LaLiga TV (United Kingdom), beIN Sports en Español (United States), DIRECTV Sports (Uruguay)