Some five thousand fans gathered in the car park outside the Jose Zorilla Stadium while inside Diego Simeone and their boys were involved in a clash that required full points to win the La Liga title since that eventful 2013-14 season. The opposition was Ronaldo Nazario’s Real Valladolid and in such a topsy-turvy season any outcomes were possible.
Two matches – Real Madrid vs Villarreal and Atletico Madrid vs Real Valladolid started at the same time and the players and fans whoever followed one particular match, always kept themselves updated for the other contest.
When Valladolid and Villarreal took the lead at Jose Zorilla and Alfredo Di Stefano respectively, the tension increased and offered a thrilling contest.
In the 57th minute a Karim Benzema goal was ruled out for offside at Alfredo Di Stefano while at Jose Zorilla Angel Di Correa equalized for Atleti. Frustration mounted at one venue while confidence grew at the other – ten minutes the charismatic Luis Suarez gave Atleti the lead while Real Madrid were still trailing by 0-1.
In the dying moments of the game, Benzema equalized and in the injury time, Luka Modric gave Los Blancos the lead, but Valladolid were needed to beat Atleti, which they could not and thus, the new champions of this season’s La Liga are Atletico Madrid.
Kudos to Real Madrid for the way they fought hard till the end despite 62 injuries this season, but nevertheless, Atleti deserved the title more than any other teams in the La Liga this season.
Since winning the La Liga title in 2014, Diego Simeone’s side came close to achieve glories quite a few times, but in the end, it never really happened because Real Madrid and Barcelona had their fair amount of rosy moments.
Simeone started this season with a different intent and the arrival of Luis Suarez prompted him to think about his plans differently.
He was needed to build a system that would suit Suarez the most.
He changed his formation from 4-4-2 to 3-4-3 or 3-5-2 which would have better coverage of the field and more players close to Suarez in the attacking half while still being safe during a transition moment.
This has led to Atletico having more possession and play more passes in the opponent’s half than in the past.
The change injected a positive impact on their possession which increased to 50% in comparison to last season’s 47% while average passes per possession increased from 3.87 to 5.15. Meanwhile, average passes in the final third increased from 53.13 to 62.1.
This all happened due to the Suarez effect.
By having so many players around him Suarez can play in his favorite style where he finds spaces and either dropped between the lines to help his team keep possession or attacks the small spaces in the box to finish chances. He is a player that only needs a bit of time and space to finish a chance.
Despite changing their style into a more possession-oriented style in the opponent’s half, they can still utilize a direct approach when necessary to expose space in the opponent’s backline. They often will start a small build-up to attract pressure before sending a direct pass forward to exploit gaps in the opponent’s last line of defense.
It has worked till the end.
Defensive solidity and at times being pretty bloody-minded have always been the hallmark of Atletico under Simeone.
The plan for a three-man defence gave Simeone a better chance to deal with the defensive transitions they countered and enabled them to have higher wing-backs and do a better job controlling possession in the attacking half while being more secure in the back.
Furthermore, with their quick aggressive pressure on the ball when they lose it and the work rate that has characterized Atletico all these years with players running back quickly, they will be able to deal with defensive transition moments effectively.
But with a three-man backline, he needed more coverage than before during the counter and which means that when in their defensive organization in their own half they can sit in a low 5-4-1 or a 5-3-2 defensively which gives them more security especially when they are defending a lead.
During the zonal and man-marking, where many teams tend to favor one over the other which often can expose them against certain opponents, with Atletico a combination of both is key to their defensive solidity.
They had done a great job covering the right zones but at the same time, the players were man-oriented in those zones which allowed them to pressure immediately a player on the ball and take away many passing options to their opponent’s which made decision-making for the player on the ball hard and ultimately leads to loss of possession.
Another strong aspect of Simeone’s defensive game is knowing as a team when to press high and when to sit deeper.
This rate of pressing has dropped this year due to Suarez not being given too much responsibility to press; instead, he usually shields the defensive midfielder and only presses in certain situations.
The never say die attitude
At one point Atleti were well ahead of others in La Liga, still, midway through the season they started to suffer and it seemed that they would choke again, but when it mattered, they never lost points whereas teams like Real Madrid and Barcelona either lost or dropped points against opponents that were meant to be beaten. Bagging those points worked in favour of Simeone and when the chips were down the whole team rallied together and kept on fighting.
The winning mentality and never say die attitude always existed and during the crucial phases of the league, they handled the pressure better.
Spain: Atletico Madrid crowned La Liga champions
Suarez scores winner in 2-1 win on final day with Real Madrid finishing second despite comeback win.
Atletico Madrid have been crowned La Liga champions for the first time since 2014 with veteran striker Luis Suarez scoring the winner in a 2-1 victory over Valladolid.
Suarez scored in the 58th minute for Atletico after Angel Correa had equalised Oscar Plano’s opener for Valladolid on Saturday.
Elsewhere, closest rivals Real Madrid beat Villarreal 2-1 but that was not enough to overhaul a two-point deficit.
Real trailed at home to a 20th-minute goal by Yeremi Pino for Villarreal.
Karim Benzema’s late headed equaliser and Luka Modric’s last-minute goal gave Real victory but it was too little, too late as Atletico claimed the title for the 11th time in their history.
Atletico finished top of the standings with 86 points, while Real finished second on 84.
“The world is going through a different phase right now so if we can give some joy to people it means so much to us,” Atletico head coach Diego Simeone told La Liga TV.
“The first thing that came to me was a smile. I wanted to laugh. I don’t know why. It is joy that is warm inside. I was thinking back to ahead of the game when we were leaving and didn’t know if we would continue after the title win. This group has a tremendous future now. The club is growing and has done a fabulous job. It is more important than the results.”
Meanwhile, an acrobatic late effort from Antoine Griezmann saw Barcelona confirm a third-placed finish in La Liga for the season, as they crept past already relegated Eibar 1-0.
Coach Ronald Koeman named a much-changed starting XI, with Lionel Messi, Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Gerard Pique, Clement Lenglet, Jordi Alba and Pedri all absent, and initially, it showed in a somewhat disjointed first half.
With the game seemingly destined for a draw, it sparked to life in the closing stages.
On 81 minutes Griezmann smashed in from an acute angle following good work from Ousmane Dembele.
Barca were given a scare four minutes from time when Takashi Inui saw an effort smash back off the crossbar, however, the Catalans held out to secure the three points.
Is this the tipping point for football fan power?
As a Manchester United fan protest leads to a match postponement, experts say owners must rebuild trust with the fans.
England’s Premier League is to bring in a new “owners’ charter”, forcing owners of football clubs to commit to its “core principles”, it was revealed on Monday.
The announcement came as the Football Association, the sport’s governing body in England, also unveiled an inquiry into the six English clubs which joined the ill-fated European Super League last month.
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Executives at the six – Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham – have been forced to resign from their advisory roles at the Premier League, while United’s executive vice chairman Ed Woodward announced he would step down from his role at the club at the end of the year.
But Woodward’s decision failed to satisfy thousands of United fans who protested at the club’s famed Old Trafford stadium on Sunday, with hundreds breaking into the stadium and occupying the pitch. Their action forced a match against rivals Liverpool, which was due to be broadcast around the world, to be postponed.
It was the latest in a series of fan protests against the “big six” clubs’ attempted breakaway. The Manchester United protesters called for the club’s owners, the Glazer family, to sell up, and for new owners to ensure fans’ representation in the club’s governance.
“In the last few years we have started to see flashpoints throughout the world as a reaction against the excesses of capitalism,” Paul Widdop, senior lecturer in sport business at Manchester Metropolitan University, told Al Jazeera.
“I think the reaction of fans in recent weeks is another of these reactions. In all social movements there needs to be a tipping point, whereby protests gather momentum and there is a transition between general malaise at the situation, to direct action.”
David Webber, course leader in Football Studies at Southampton’s Solent University, told Al Jazeera that it was a “tipping point”.
“This degree of direct action has changed the parameters of the politically possible. By disrupting and potentially cancelling one of the biggest games in world football, these distinctly local protests have gone global. They remind us how important – even in an age of global investors, and global fanbases – these local fans and these local spaces are.”
Why are fans upset?
At Manchester United, the discontent has been growing since the Glazers took over the club. Their $1.5bn purchase of the club in 2005 was built on securing $1.1bn in loans against the club, immediately plunging the previously debt-free club
- Not far from Buenos Aires, Gabriel Milito, Diego’s younger brother was appointed to be the manager of Atlético Independiente Club.
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