A headed equalizer from Diego Godin early in the second half earned Atlético Madrid a 1-1 draw at Camp Nou this evening to clinch the 2013/14 liga. Barça’s hopes of pipping Diego Simeone’s men to the title were raised by a splendid strike from Alexis Sanchez in the 34th minute but the blaugrana ran out of ideas after Godin’s goal put the visitors level and Atlético’s packed defence held out for the point which clinches their tenth league title and their first since 1996.
For Tata Martino it means he ends his season at the club with just the Spanish Supercup and after the game he confirmed that an agreement had been reached with the club for him to leave. The Argentine coach chose to leave Xavi on the bench for the start, preferring a midfield of Fabregas, Busquets and Iniesta. Piqué returned in defence while Alexis and Pedro played wide of Leo Messi in attack. The Barça XI began well enough, moving the ball quickly to keep away from Atlético’s high energy pressing. Adriano and Alves were getting forward and they sent in a couple of decent-looking crosses, and Adriano fired an early shot straight at Courtois.
Atlético also had their moments. Miranda headed wide from a free-kick, Piqué mis-hit a Juanfran cross over his own bar and Arda volleyed well over after a half-cleared corner. But then two injuries, to Diego Costa in the 14th minute and to Arda five minutes later led to Simeone, who had started with his expected XI, needing to chance his plans as Adrian Lopez and Raul Garcia came on. For Costa and Arda the possibility of missing next week’s Champions League final added to their frustration.
Barça looked to take advantage of Atlético’s reorganisation and there was a while that the visitors appeared to the have their minds on Lisbon. Alves sent in two good crosses, but Alexis lacked power with his header from the first, then Pedro failed to keep his header down at the far post. Barça kept pushing forward and the breakthrough came in the 34th minute. Alves pulled the ball back for Fabregas to cross from deep, Messi made an unusual run towards the near post and when Fabregas’s chip came in Miranda was marking Messi closely and the Argentinian could only chest the ball away from goal to the right, Alexis was running in and he hit the ball first time from an angle and the ball flew past Courtois, clipping the near post and the underside of the bar on the way in.
Atlético looked shocked by the goal, and the fear they were going to blow it was evident as Godin and Tiago were booked in quick succession. However, the visitors responded with a good spell of pressure in the minutes before half-time. Barça were tested by three corners, Raul Garcia had a shot deflected wide off Mascherano then in injury time another effort from Raul Garcia went wide of the far post.
The half-time whistle came as a relief but Atlético came out strongly after the break with Villa turning to shoot against the base of the post within a minute of the restart. If Atlético had suffered the psychological pressure of possible failure during the first half, they now seemed liberated, almost as if they now had nothing to lose. Barça, on the other hand, began to show signs of nerves and only a last-gasp intervention from Adriano and Pinto prevented Villa from converting Koke’s cross. Then from the resulting corner Alves, Fabregas and Mascherano were distracted by Miranda and Raul Garcia, and Gabi’s cross was met by the unmarked Godin who headed cleanly past Pinto from ten yards.
Atlético were clearly boosted by the goal while Barça were further troubled by Busquets getting injured which forced Martino to bring on Alex Song. The team failed to react to the setbacks and Martino called for Neymar with half an hour to go. Messi had the ball in the net soon after, but the goal was ruled out for offside. Alves had crossed towards Fabregas who challenged for the ball with Juanfran, the ball bounced to Messi who hooked the ball into the net from an offside position: what wasn’t as clear was whether it was Fabregas or Juanfran who had given the ‘assist’.
Messi was again a long way from his best but in the 69th minute he skipped past Koke before being grounded two yards from the edge of the penalty area by Filipe Luis. The free-kick offered a chance for the Barça number ten but he smashed his shot straight at Atlético’s wall. Atlético continued to show more belief as they stuck to their game-plan of complicating things for Barça. Often they would chase Barça up the pitch putting a high pressure which continually exposed Pinto’s weaknesses his feet, but they were equally happy to regroup in numbers on the edge of the area to deny Barça shooting chances. There was only one decent effort, from Alves in the 80th minute, but his 25-yarder never looked likely to beat Courtois who tipped the ball over. There was a timid penalty appeal from Piqué after he appeared to get a shove in the back from Godin but referee Mateu Lahoz was having none of it. Then in injury time Pinto went forward for a last minute corner but Barça showed neither the belief nor the desire to steal the prize at the end and Atlético deservedly held on.
The league was in our hands when Alexis scored then we let it slip away but there will be plenty of time this week for the Barça post-mortem. For now it only remains to praise Atlético for their achievement and to wish them luck next week in Lisbon. Few gave them a real chance to go the whole way in La Liga but they have proved how hard work and a strong mentality can reap tremendous results with limited resources. I take my hat off to Simeone for doing such a brilliant job and salute his players for performing so well as a unit. A special congratulations should go to David Villa who gets the last laugh on those who booed him so unfairly for having the nerve to celebrate scoring in the Supercopa game back in August. He hardly had a sniff tonight due to the strong performances from Mascherano and Piqué but El Guaje should be remembered for forming an important part of one of our greatest ever teams and deserves our respect.
Barça: Pinto 5.5; Alves 6.5, Pique 7, Mascherano 7.5, Adriano 7; Fabregas 6 (Xavi m77, 5.5), Busquets 6 (Song m57, 5.5), Iniesta 5.5; Alexis 6.5, Messi 6, Pedro 5.5 (Neymar m62, 5.5).
Atlético: Courtois; Juanfran, Miranda, Godin, Filipe Luis; Arda Turan (Raul Garcia m23), Gabi, Tiago, Koke; Diego Costa (Adrian m16 (Sosa m72)), Villa.
Goals: m34 Alexis 1-0, m49 Godin 1-1.
Yellow cards: m5 Piqué, m36 Godin, m37 Tiago, h/t Messi, h/t Busquets, m68 Filipe Luis, m73 Song, m76 Neymar, m90 Mascherano, m92 Raul Garcia.