The Irish Mail on Sunday
Atletico Madrid claim Spanish title after final-day dramatics against Barcelona
THEY were the little horse in La Liga’s three-horse title race and they did not fall at the last. Atletico Madrid are La Liga Champions for the first time in 18 years after picking up the crucial point they needed at the Camp Nou despite a calamitous first half.
Both Diego Costa and Arda Turan were taken off injured in the first 45 minutes and a lightning strike from Alexis Sánchez beat Thibaut Courtois to put Barça 1-0 up but even the halftime advantage could not wake Barcelona from their slumber.
Costa was in tears on the bench. The Chelsea-bound striker must sense that next week’s Champions League final will come too soon for him and that his niggling hamstring could even jeopardise his World Cup dream.
Courtois is another who has now surely played his last league game for Atletico Madrid with Jose Mourinho unlikely to sanction more Champions League heroics for another club that is not Chelsea next season. But both have signed off as league champions.
It was always going to take something special to beat Courtois and it came towards the end of the first half from Sánchez.
The Chile winger’s rocket shot found the Belgian keeper’s top corner after Leo Messi had chested down Cesc Fabregas’s long ball forward. It looked like being the goal that would decide the league.
It had not been a typical Barcelona goal – fitting for what has not been a typical Barcelona season. Their passing football has deserted them and they started this game without Xavi, the maestro left on the bench.
Having taken the lead surely Barcelona would produce a second half worthy of Champions – but they came out sleeping for the second period.
First, David Villa hit the post and then Diego Godin powered a header past Jose Pinto from Koke’s corner to put Atletico Madrid level. Barcelona’s old Achilles heel had come back to haunt them again and this time it would cost them the league.
With the introduction of Neymar the home side improved and the change seemed to inspire Messi, who had the ball in the net only for an offside flag to be raised. A title-winning goal from Messi would have been the perfect way to celebrate a new £16.3 million contract, but neither in this game nor the other 37 of the season has he looked like the fourtimes Balon d’Or winner of old.
As the Camp Nou emptied, Barcelona’s disappointed supporters turned to whistle their own team off the pitch and to chant ‘Atleti! Aleti’ at their conquerors.
Up in the gods of the Camp Nou, the 447 Atletico Madrid supporters celebrated and today there will be closer to 100,000 on the streets of the capital as they bring the League title back home.