Suarez’s late issue keeps Atletico in check as ridiculous La Liga title race unfolds
Diego Simeone’s side came from behind to beat Osasuna and hold onto their two-point lead over Real Madrid heading into the final round of matches.
For much of 2021, Atletico Madrid looked like they were wasting their chance to win a first league title in seven years.
Sunday was the same story. Until Luis Suarez decides otherwise.
With less than 10 minutes to go to the penultimate round of matches, Diego Simeone’s side allowed exhausted but relentless Real Madrid of Zinedine Zidane to temporarily take over La Liga and take control of the title race. .
But late goals from Renan Lodi and Suarez helped the Rojiblancos come back from behind and beat Osasuna 2-1 at Wanda Metripolitano, and in doing so, they kept their fate in their hands.
Ronald Koeman’s Barcelona were definitively excluded from the race with a 2-1 loss to Celta Vigo in what could be Lionel Messi’s last home game at Camp Nou, but journalists supporters of Catalonia applauded the the arrival of news of Suarez’s goal.
The Catalans’ decision to allow Suarez to leave for next to nothing has been ridiculed all season, but Uruguay’s 20th La Liga goal of the season may well have denied the title to Barcelona’s fierce rivals Real.
Suarez gained 19 points at Atletico with his 20 goals, with no player having a greater impact in that regard in the division.
It was never all about football for Atletico. Simeone always insists that the club is synonymous with values, effort, dedication, loyalty, hard work, family and, yes, suffering.
That’s why fans gathered in the parking lot to cheer them on against Real Sociedad midweek, and again here, making sure their team can hear them from inside the stadium.
They also saw them, outside the Wanda, with fans occupying the surrounding streets, although they would not be allowed in, launching flares and trying to create an atmosphere to greet the team bus. .
Suarez had the first big chance, with the ball falling behind the defense, but Sergio Herrera saved the former Liverpool star’s shot with his feet. Opportunities continued to drop for Suarez, but he couldn’t connect with Mario Hermoso’s low ball in the box.
He kept knocking on the door and hitting the post up close after a great job from Angel Correa, and could have had a hat trick in the first half.
After dragging an effort off the far post, he kicked out the electronic billboards. For now, frustration. Later, elation.
The odds were flowing for Atletico, with Saul Niguez heading for Kieran Trippier’s cross, but Herrera’s net lived a charmed life. So much so that when Stefan Savic broke the deadlock it didn’t count either, the defender was marginally offside.
Neither did Yannick Carrasco, although the offside was clearer this time around as Atletico’s frustration increased.
Suddenly the fans outside the Wanda Metropolitano fell silent; Real Madrid had scored away at Athletic Club.
With Zidane’s future being discussed in the Spanish capital and Madrid still suffering from various absences, the circumstances were far from ideal for their trip to the Basque Country.
It is to the coach’s credit that they have remained in the race so far, with Madrid having suffered around 60 injuries this season, far more than their rivals. Several players are running empty.
They complained bitterly when the ball hit Jon Morcillo’s elbow in the area of Alvaro Odriozola’s cross in San Mames, but no penalty was awarded.
Madrid couldn’t create much else in the first half, with exhaustion wreaking havoc with Athletic’s defense keeping Karim Benzema and Vinicius Junior at bay.
Eventually they got the breakthrough when Casemiro, who had previously hit the crossbar, crossed and Nacho scored at the back post in the 68th minute.
The defender didn’t know much about it, but he was in the right place at the right time, as he has so often been this season.
Madrid were in the lead, both in Bilbao and in the standings.
Things got worse before they got better for Atletico, with Ante Budimir’s mighty header too much for even the stunning Jan Oblak to stay on the sidelines.
Even with an Atletico goal now, Zidane’s side would top their top head-to-head record heading into the closing weekend. It took two.
And Atletico finally got them.
Lodi returned home in the 82nd minute to give the Rojiblancos conviction, and Suarez made amends for all of his previous failures to send Atletico into ecstasy.
“I knew Atletico was about suffering, but I didn’t know it was so much,” Suarez said full-time.
It’s not just you, Luis. This title race has had so many twists and turns, and there could still be a pinch in history.
But for now, Atletico leads, with two points ahead of Real Madrid, with one game to play, at Real Valladolid next Sunday. A Valladolid is still fighting for its survival.
Expect a lot more suffering in seven days.