Barcelona vs. Atletico Madrid: 6 Things We Learned
Only the third time in history that the top two have gone head-to-head in a winner-take-all scenario on the final day of the campaign.
Diego Simeone's men went into the game knowing a draw would be good enough to take the trophy for the first time since 1996, whilst Tata Martino had to achieve something he had so far failed to do in five attempts during the season—beat Atleti.
In front of almost 100,000 supporters, both teams produced a game worthy of its billing, but there would only be one winner.
Let's take a look at six things we learned from Camp Nou...
Xavi on the Bench
In Barcelona's biggest match of the season, Tata Martino probably took his biggest risk.
Xavi Hernandez, the metronome that dictates the pace of each Barca game in which he plays, was left on the bench until 15 minutes from the end.
The rationale was that Barca would "go for it," attack with menace, sharp, quick ball.
And in the first half that's exactly what they did. Fighting fire with fire. In many respects, this wasn't a Barcelona we have seen before under Martino.
Possession football yes, but with intent. And against a side as strong as Atletico Madrid, this was a "Plan B" that cules can only salivate over.
Top marks to Tata for his first half work at least.
Atletico's Exemplary Defensive Lines
Diego Simeone deserves such credit for ensuring that Atletico Madrid were still alive in the title race going into the last game of the season.
Much had already been written about their excellence going forward, but a cap must be doffed in the direction of a defence that has been excellence personified.
Miranda and Diego Godin barely give an inch, and is one of the chief reasons why Lionel Messi finds it so hard to score against Atleti.
How Filipe Luis cannot forge his way into the Brazilian national team is beyond the comprehension of most football followers including Rupert Fryer of Goal.com.
Two tight banks of four, no spaces in between the lines. No way through for Pedro Rodriguez or (his goal apart) Alexis Sanchez out wide.
Tough. Uncompromising. Brilliant.
Costa's Tears/Arda's Woe
Was it a mistake for Diego Simeone to even consider playing talisman Diego Costa in this fixture?
True that he has caused the Blaugrana nothing but problems when fully fit, but if the play wasn't fully fit, surely with just a draw needed, Costa should've been wrapped in cotton wool with a view to playing against Real Madrid in the Champions League Final next Saturday?
Arda Turan's 22nd minute withdrawal could have even more far-reaching consequences. The Turk had already covered three kilometres before leaving the field and is a mainstay of the hard-working Rojiblancos midfield.
Both were in tears as they left the field, suggesting that their season may be over before the showpiece next week, which would be incredibly bad luck for an Atleti side that have deserved their place amongst the elite this season.
The moment that defined the first half was provided by the boot of Alexis Sanchez.
A goal so absolutely brilliant that it almost defies adequate description. Given that Thibaut Courtois stands at 6'6", was less than two feet from his post and had only previously let in 25 goals, this goal had to be extra special.
And it was.
A real striker's instinct from Sanchez, with no time to think. A perfect connection on the ball and it had flown into the net before Courtois had a chance to move.
Continuing Set-Piece Problems for Barca
Atletico came out of the blocks in the second half like men possessed and their equaliser was a just reward for a few minutes of absolute domination after half-time.
Whether Diego Simeone had given a rousing half-time speech will be a matter for conjecture, but David Villa had already hit the post before Diego Godin's free header brought the scores level.
But what were the Barcelona defence playing at, yet again, from the dead ball?
Just look at the picture above as your evidence. Dani Alves more intent on pushing attackers out of the way whilst Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas and Sergio Busquets just stand and watch. Godin untracked right in the thick of the penalty area.
Absolutely inexcusable at this level and in that moment the title was gone.
After nine gruelling months it all came down to this game. Chances not taken by the mattress makers in the preceding weeks gave Barcelona a sniff of victory.
In the end, on the second half performance alone, missing two of their biggest players, Diego Simeone and Atletico Madrid deserve all of the plaudits for digging deep in their reserves to do what they had to do to get the job done.
Over the course of the season, the Rojiblancos were the best team and the table doesn't lie. Worthy winners of La Liga.
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