Atletico Madrid came very close to winning the 2013-14 La Liga title on Sunday, but a phenomenal save from Willie Caballero deep in added time saved Barcelona's season. The title will now be decided in a final showdown between the two teams at the top of the standings.
It's almost miraculous that it has come to this, as for the second straight week, all three title contending teams in La Liga left points on the table. Atletico were held 1-1 by Malaga, while Barcelona couldn't manage a single goal against Elche.
Real Madrid, meanwhile, ended their title bid with a disappointing 2-0 loss at Celta Vigo, but that loss had been calculated, as Carlo Ancelotti decided to rest a number of starters ahead of the UEFA Champions League final in two weeks.
Football is a funny game, and nowhere has that been more evident than in Spain this season. The final matchday will not only decide the league champions, but also which two teams will join Real Betis in the Segunda Division next season, as the battle to avoid the drop is still wide open in La Liga.
|17 May||9 p.m. BST/4 p.m. ET||Valencia||v||Celta Vigo|
|18 May||11 a.m. BST/6 a.m. ET||Real Sociedad||v||Villarreal|
|18 May||6 p.m. BST/1 p.m. ET||Almeria||v||Athletic Bilbao|
|18 May||6 p.m. BST/1 p.m. ET||Barcelona||v||Atletico Madrid|
|18 May||6 p.m. BST/1 p.m. ET||Malaga||v||Levante|
|18 May||6 p.m. BST/1 p.m. ET||Osasuna||v||Real Betis|
|18 May||6 p.m. BST/1 p.m. ET||Rayo Vallecano||v||Getafe|
|18 May||6 p.m. BST/1 p.m. ET||Real Madrid||v||Espanyol|
|18 May||6 p.m. BST/1 p.m. ET||Sevilla||v||Elche|
Key fixtures and final-day scenarios
For obvious reasons, the one fixture that jumps out is the massive showdown between Atletico Madrid and Barcelona at the Camp Nou.
Atletico came dangerously close to locking up the title against Malaga, but as shared by Eurosport and Michael Cerna, football truly is a game of inches:
TO RECAP: Barcelona 0-0 Elche; Atletico 1-1 Malaga. If Atleti better Barca's result, they win the league tonight.— Eurosport.com EN (@EurosportCom_EN) May 11, 2014
Caballero saves Barcelona's title hopes yet again. Unbelievable!— Michael Cerna (@MichaelCernaRO) May 11, 2014
Caballero's save ensured the title would be decided in a winner-take-all showdown on the final matchday, a fitting end to one of the most exciting title races La Liga has ever seen.
Atletico lead Barcelona by three points, so the only way the Blaugrana can win the title is by beating the current league-leaders. Any other result will give the title to Atletico, marking the first time since 2004 that neither Barcelona or Real lifted the league trophy.
The hosts will have the advantage in goal difference and drew Atletico in their first meeting this season, so even a single-goal win would hand the title to Barcelona.
But Sunday will mark the sixth meeting between both clubs this season, with four of the last five ending in a tie and Atletico emerging victorious in the Champions League semi-final.
In short, we couldn't have asked for a more exciting ending to the season. If Barcelona can beat Atletico at home, they'll complete an epic comeback and win La Liga. In any other scenario, the dominance of Real and Barca is finally over.
Sky Sports' David Jones can't wait:
Osasuna and Valladolid currently take up the two spots on the table that would see them join Betis on their way down to the Segunda Division, but both teams can still survive the drop.
Valladolid will visit Granada in another mouth-watering tie, as the hosts sit just two points ahead of the relegation zone. If Granada lose, they'll suffer heart-break on the very last matchday and go down.
Osasuna will host already-relegated Real Betis and hold the tie-breaker over Valladolid, so if the latter beat Granada, Osasuna could secure La Liga safety with a win on the final matchday.
Even Almeria and Getafe aren't mathematically safe, and both teams will have to keep an eye on what happens behind them in the standings when they take on Athletic Bilbao and Rayo Vallecano, respectively.
As shared by Football Radar's William Abbs shares, the relegation-scenarios in La Liga are shaping up to be a mess:
It's possible that four of Valladolid, Osasuna, Getafe, Granada & Almeria could end up tied on 39 points with one relegated on head-to-head.— William Abbs (@WilliamAbbs) May 11, 2014
No idea what the head-to-head permutations are at the moment. Frankly, my head hurts already.— William Abbs (@WilliamAbbs) May 11, 2014
The real battle will take place between Granada, Osasuna and Valladolid. Granada sport a better goal difference than Almeria, while Osasuna have the biggest disadvantage in that category.
Simply put, the match between Granada and Valladolid is a straight play-off to avoid relegation. Granada will secure a spot in next season's La Liga but could still go down with a draw, depending on Osasuna's result against Real Betis.
Almeria and Getafe have their fate in their own hands, taking on teams with nothing left to play for. A draw or better will do the trick for either team, while Spain's complex tie-breaker procedures will come into play should two of Osasuna, Granada or Almeria manage to end the season on level points with either team.
No doubt La Liga officials are already calculating every possible scenario we could see going into the final matchday, and the situation should become much clearer in the coming days.