La Liga Title Decider a Fitting End for Both Barcelona and Atletico Madrid

Christopher Heathman@@CHeathmanCorrespondent IIMay 18, 2014

Atletico's team celebrate after winning the Spanish League title after a Spanish La Liga soccer match between FC Barcelona and Atletico Madrid at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain, Saturday, May 17, 2014. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
Manu Fernandez/Associated Press

Atletico Madrid battled back from a goal down to draw with Barcelona 1-1 and become Spanish champions for the first time since 1996.

In doing so Atletico not only took the title from Barca, but defeated the duopoly of Spain. It is an achievement that will be tough to top, but the opportunity to do so awaits the Colchoneros in Lisbon, where they will take on city rivals Real Madrid in the Champions League final .

The league finale, which took place at Camp Nou, was not the easiest to watch in the first half, but the game as a whole was a perfect summary of both Atletico's and Barca's seasons. The second 45 minutes in particular demonstrated the contrast between the newly crowned champions and the deposed title holders.

The first-half display from Barcelona was not a vintage one and typical of their season. Tata Martino's side were not put under any real pressure and at the same did not threaten Atletico's goal.

The pendulum still managed to swing Barcelona's way, however, when Atleti's top goal scorer Diego Costa pulled up with a hamstring injury and was left in tears on the bench. Soon after, Arda Turan received a knock and Atletico were forced to make their second substitution in the first 25 minutes.

Barca still failed to mount any continual pressure, but like so many times this season the Catalan side produced a goal out of nothing to take the lead.

Cesc Fabregas chipped a pass over the heads of the Atletico's defence to Lionel Messi, who chested the ball down to Alexis Sanchez. The Chilean was seemingly in no place to score, but he struck the ball into the net on the half volley with ferocious power and laser accuracy between the near post and the helpless Thibaut Coutois.

The assumption now was that Barcelona would control of the game. We have seen it so many times over the past few years and many thought it would be a given. Not this season, however, and Atletico's response was typical of their own campaign.

The speed and accuracy of Atletico's execution with the ball is something to marvel at. It was this, as well as their rapid pressing, which pushed Barca back and created openings for Rojiblancos.

A last ditch intervention at the back post from Dani Alves denied Adrian, who came on for the injured Costa, but the resulting corner put Barca under more pressure. With Jose Pinto in goal every set piece seemed dangerous.

The tone was now set for the second half and Atletico continued their assault on Pinto's goal. Former Barca man David Villa hit the post and almost immediately after looked through on goal only to be tackled.

Soon enough, though, Atletico got their goal. Surprise, surprise, it came from a corner. The ball flew in from the right and was met by the towering Diego Godin, who headed the ball low and hard into the corner.

Barcelona now needed a goal, but other than Messi putting the ball in the net, only for it to be flagged rightly for offside, the champions never created a clear-cut chance.

Neymar was brought on for Pedro. The Brazilian put in some effort but was often too selfish with the ball. The most decorated player in the club's history, Xavi, also came on but made little impact.

Barca did push Atletico back but the attacks were desperate without any real thought. Gerard Pique was thrown forward as part of Barcelona's default desperation setting but never came close.

Each attack bounced off the Atletico defence. In contrast to Barca's frantic attack, which consisted of a series of individual attempts to win the day, Atleti's collective defence was solid and each player was determined not to be the crack that gave in to the pressure.

Atletico Madrid held out and were crowned champions of Spain for the first time in 18 years. In every sense of the word the best team won and the final 90 minutes of the title race summed up the season for both teams.

Barcelona are a team comprised of exceptional individuals that can be devastating when they work collectively as a team, as we have seen time and again over the past five years. But this season there was no cohesion and manager Martino could not bring it together.

Barca were poor for the entire 90 minutes, but still they managed to compete—a theme that has carried throughout the season. Relative to their former greatness, Barcelona performed poorly but they still challenged until the end.

Atletico, on the other hand, were magnificent for much of the season. They did not make it easy for themselves, but with a limited squad in comparison to Barca and Real Madrid it was always going to be a battle to not only keep in touch, but stay ahead.

When the team struggled on empty, they still fought and clawed their way to the top. Atletico are a team of excellent players, which manager Diego Simeone has assembled and installed a work ethic that Spain, and much of Europe, has been unable to compete with.

World-class individuals are great assets, but this is a team sport.


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