In the unforgettable La Liga title fight of Atletico and Real Madrid, every moment counted
At 8 p.m. CEST on Saturday night, one of the players from Real Madrid or Atletico Madrid will be La Liga champions – and one won’t. And that’s when they’ll start to wonder, when will they remember every shot, every miss, every chance that wasn’t taken. Every little thing that happened will be magnified and every moment will be the moment that mattered. They’ll look back and think: that was the league. And when it’s that close, they might be right.
Seven long months later, the race for the Spanish League title comes down to one night. And while that seems like a simple equation, something about this season says it won’t and the drama isn’t over yet. Atletico Madrid travel to Real Valladolid knowing that if they win, they will win the league. They also know that if they don’t win, they won’t win the league. They are only two points clear, so a draw will put their fate back in the hands of Real Madrid as they face Villarreal at home and have the best record head to head.
Whatever happens, let’s face it, the loser will be looking at the referee, which is a lot easier than looking at himself. A plot is the easiest thing to see. And you can guarantee that at some point it will be “ The League Of [insert the name of your least favourite referee here]”. Someone will say he escaped because of that penalty, or that offside, or that red card. They will be convinced that VAR was vengeful.
It’s easy to feel robbed, but it’s also easy to feel regret. It’s easy to watch bad luck; much harder to watch good luck. Success is rarely attributed to fortune, while failure so often is. But players and fans will also be thinking about what could have been, what they could have done, how different it could have been, if only … But for that luck … it was all …
If Atletico do not win the league, Angel Correa will be revisited by Levante; if Real Madrid fail, Vinicius Jr. will be haunted by his failure against Sevilla FC. And countless others by countless other times. Even Luis Suarez and Karim Benzema, the men who brought their teams here, will remember times when they could have made sure they didn’t need it, when it could have been done earlier. Watch any game, any time of the season, and you can probably find a turning point.
Who is great. Which only happens because it’s so tight, so competitive, because the trip has been so good – and a league is a trip, not just an end. Not even an end, perhaps. Exactly. Diego Simeone has even said this before, although he probably didn’t mean it.
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On Sunday night, Real Madrid could be champions on the head-to-head record. Atletico will rethink the derby and the 20 seconds that elapsed between them going almost 2-0 and finishing 1-1. And pretty much every other time too. There have been so many, all considered decisive now, even though nothing is decided.
In fact, this is not true. It was decided that Barcelona were not there and neither were Seville. Think of Granada, the day when Barcelona could have taken the upper hand for the first time in a year and lost. Think of Levante – they will all think of Levante. Think of Bilbao’s Inaki Williams scoring late against Sevilla, just when they were thinking: actually wait, maybe we can compete for this thing. Think Real Madrid’s Toni Kroos and that 96th minute goal to save a 2-2 draw.
On the other side, think about that moment in the same game where there were two penalties, one at each end and the referee had to decide which one to give: Sevilla or Real Madrid. And how that changed the fate of the league. Or did you do it? That may have changed again, and that’s what he’s been doing throughout the year. This too, like so many other times, has decided that while Barcelona and Sevilla are not there, Atletico and Real Madrid are.
Almost every week they have been out of breath, but they are there, still standing. In one way or another. Atletico in particular can count comfortable afternoons on the fingers of one hand. Madrid can count many of their victories thanks to the fingers of Thibaut Courtois’ hands. Now, finally, it is really decisive. At 8 p.m., only one will still be standing. Win, or it’s over.
Atletico should beat Valladolid, of course. This week there was talk of a pact, with Valladolid president Ronaldo ready to try and do Real Madrid a favor. Think about it – while it might be better not to, better ignore it – and it’s bordering on offense. As if Valladolid’s mission is to help Madrid, when they have their own survival at stake. Having said that, they also know that they will only escape relegation if they win and Huesca loses and Elche loses points. .
Simple, then? Simple? This season? It’s just not so, which is why we are here. It’s not really what these teams do either. And yet, here’s the thing: is it time to rethink those identities we take for granted?
There’s a lot of talk, and rightly so, about how Real Madrid always seem to survive, as if imbued with supernatural power, about how you have to kill them a hundred times to make sure they really are. dead and don’t come back for you. . Like the brooms from Disney’s “Fantasia” – cut them into a million pieces and they’ll always cluster together – they always seem to get away with it. One way or another, they’re still on the hunt. And it’s true: he watched in January, but they chased Atletico to the line.
Much is also being done, and rightly so, about how Atletico Madrid are the team that always seem to find a way to lose, the club capable of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, capable of turning the task. the easiest in crisis, always on hold. the cruelest of ends – especially when Real Madrid are around. Think of the Champions League finals in Milan and Lisbon, think of 14 without winning a single derby. And this season, people have thought of them.
Any other team with a 10-point lead and a game in hand, and you’d conclude: well, it’s done. This time in the media in Madrid it was more about trying to get Atletico to conclude themselves, or at least admit that they were going for the title, that they were favorites. As if that would make a difference. Except maybe to load up on the pressure, to make the loss even more painful when it came, which maybe would have been the point.
Many could see it coming: if anyone can let it slip away, crumble, crumble, it’s Atletico. If anyone can track them down, it’s real. Or so it’s okay. When Atletico were beaten 2-1 at Athletic Bilbao on April 25, it seemed inevitable. When they lost to Osasuna three weeks later, it was amazing and yet so believable too.
Except that legends, stories, are sometimes just that: stories. And that’s where Suarez and Renan Lodi appeared, to seal an agonizing 2-1 victory. Atletico have entered the final day atop the table nine times in their history and have won the league each time. Madrid, on the other hand, remembers Tenerife twice. Or Juanito walking in the locker room on his knees like in 1981, celebrating a title he thought he had won as he had promised, only to come to find out they hadn’t won it at all.
Atletico might have thought they blew him away in Bilbao. Many others have. They had won only half of their last eight games, their lead lost. The league was no longer entirely in their hands. Barcelona could climb above them, leading for the first time in a year, days later, beating Granada. But they didn’t. Madrid could have gone ahead the following week. They didn’t either. Atletico were always on top, and that’s also a feat.
Last weekend, as he walked away from them, Simeone gathered his players together and told them to stay calm, to keep their head. And they did.
Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid are still standing, and it’s so good that way, every moment seems to matter because it does. Game by game, Simeone said, until the end. There are 90 minutes left, then a lifetime to linger there, wondering what could have been.