Atlético Madrid have been coronated as LaLiga’s new champions after a 2-1 victory over Real Valladolid at Estadio José Zorilla on Saturday evening.
An early goal from former Real Madrid player Óscar Plano put Atlético behind for the second consecutive week after Ante Budimir had put Osasuna ahead the week before. There was a comeback on that occasion. Atlético were about to mount another memorable ‘remontada’ on matchday 38.
Diego Simeone made no changes at the break despite Atlético trailing 1-0. The rojiblancos turned up the heat on Pucela, who were playing for their LaLiga lives at the bottom of the table. Ángel Correa tied the game with a goal straight off the street — he juggled the ball through a number of Valladolid legs before toe-poking home with goalkeeper Jordi Masip wrong-footed.
Real Madrid still trailed despite word coming through that Karim Benzema had levelled matters; that goal was later ruled out for offside.
Then, Luis Suárez put Atlético ahead when he intercepted a sloppy Sergi Guardiola pass.
El Pistolero raced through on goal and slotted home with composure to give Atlético a 2-1 lead in the 67th minute and a cushion atop the league.
Los blancos would eventually mount their own comeback, beating Villarreal 2-1, but those goals 10 minutes apart from Correa and Suárez meant Atlético, who did it the hard way all year, would decide their own fate.
The most exciting title race
It was the league that nobody seemed to want, with Barcelona, Sevilla, Real Madrid and Atlético all in with a shout in the final weeks.
Barcelona lost to Granada and drew with Levante, which ended their hopes. Sevilla lost to Athletic Club and drew with Madrid thanks to a last-second goal deflected in off Eden Hazard — those results put them out of title contention. Only Zinedine Zidane’s side hung with Atlético until the final day.
Simeone’s side had a double-digit lead at one point in the season and accumulated 50 points in the opening 19 games — they lost just once, to Real Madrid, before February, with two draws against Huesca and Villarreal.
Atlético couldn’t stop winning and with Barça and Madrid both struggling for form, many anointed Atlético champions-elect before the second half of the league kicked off.
The next stage of what would become their title win would prove to be more trying as injuries mounted, fatigue set in and results were harder to pull out.
A draw and a loss to Levante in February derailed the colchoneros, and they would go on to draw with Getafe, Madrid and Real Betis (along with losing to Sevilla) in the coming weeks, as their title credentials took a serious knock.
A couple wins steadied the ship against Eibar and Huesca, but another loss to Athletic and a draw with Barcelona set up the most exciting LaLiga run-in in recent memory.
Atlético won their final three games 2-1 each and ended the league two points ahead of Madrid and seven clear of Ronald Koeman’s blaugrana.
The winds of change are swirling in LaLiga, with uncertainty surrounding both Koeman and Zidane along with several senior players at both clubs.
Simeone was unhappy with his squad last season, and Atlético went and signed Suárez in response — the man who would fire them to the league title with 21 goals and the game-winners in each of the last two matchdays. Correa had a breakout campaign with nine goals, his most in an Atlético shirt. Marcos Llorente put himself into the conversation as the very best Spanish footballer currently playing the game with 12 goals and 11 assists to his name.
Cholo has now won eight trophies as the rojiblancos’ coach as he tightens his grip on his claim as Atlético’s most important manager ever. It is his second LaLiga title and Atlético’s 11th overall. And as it came after a global health pandemic amid off-field uncertainty, it might be Simeone’s most impressive feat yet.