The closing chapter of the 2020/21 La Liga season and drama every step of the way.
Rolling updates and changing league tables made for a thrilling early evening for the neutral and a nervy one for those of an affiliation with those involved.
In the end though, the headlines are that Atletico Madrid are champions, their city rivals Real – who were in the box seat for 19 minutes last weekend – have ended the campaign empty-handed and Elche, who were playing in the third tier of Spanish football as recently as three years ago, have saved themselves.
Atletico’s aces do it again
During manager Diego Simeone’s tenure, Los Rojiblancos have had better sides than the class of 2021 but they have not always been rewarded accordingly.
This time was different and no-one could begrudge them their glory.
Originally scheduled for Sunday, the matches were switched to Saturday and, for a while, it looked like neither title contender from the capital wanted to win it.
The SBOTOP La Liga betting odds may have been stacked against Real Valladolid but they led Atletico at the break through Oscar Plano’s superb 18th minute finish which, for 10 minutes, had them out of the drop zone and safe.
Only Jan Oblak prevented them from falling further behind but at no point were Atletico, one step away from a first title since 2014, off top spot and two La Liga highlights in 10 second half minutes sealed the crown.
Thirteen minutes after the restart and Angel Correa equalised, coolly poking the ball into the bottom corner.
Then the decisive moment as Luis Suarez pounced on Sergi Guardiola’s awful backpass and kept his composure.
The player Barcelona let go for no fee last summer had won his fifth La Liga crown and the party was just starting.
Simeone now has eight trophies as Atletico manager, their most successful ever.
Real show character but it’s not enough
Many eyes were on defending champions Real Madrid, up against Europa League finalists Villarreal, whose boss Unai Emery admitted his players may not be entirely focused with the final four days away.
Yet Villarreal were still in pursuit of Europa League qualification for next season and their desire showed as they took a surprise lead at the Alfredo Di Stefano stadium.
Just minutes after Atletico had fallen behind, a Gerard Moreno pass released Yeremi Pino and he stayed cool, beating one man before flicking the opener past Thiabut Courtois.
When, just 10 minutes into the second period and with Atletico still behind, Karim Benzema headed in a Casemiro cross, Real began to hope.
Yet at around the time VAR was disallowing the goal for offside, news emerged that Atletico had equalised in Valladolid.
Real huffed and puffed and deserve credit for finding a way back to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
With three minutes left, Benzema did get his goal, firing into the top right hand corner for his 30th of the season in all competitions.
And two minutes into stoppage time, Luka Modric’s effort deflected into the back of the net to give Real victory.
What a story that would have been had Valladolid equalised against Atletico. They hadn’t.
Real had never won the title from a trailing position going into the final day and that remains the case.
A late winner for Real Sociedad at Osasuna and a fine fightback from 2-0 down at Celta Vigo by Real Betis means Villarreal will be in the newly created Conference competition next season – unless, of course, they win the Europa League.
Elche remain part of elite!
There was still one matter to be decided – who stayed up!
With Eibar already relegated, the question was which one of Valladolid, Elche and Huesca would be able to save themselves.
With Valladolid’s hopes ended by the newly crowned champions, that left two.
Huesca had gone into the weekend in the box seat as they welcomed Valencia who themselves were rounding off a disappointing campaign.
With the contest still goalless, an offside flag denied Sandro Ramirez 11 minutes from time and, with that, Huesca were down, leapfrogged by Elche – 2-0 winners at home to Athletic Bilbao.
Promoted to La Liga by beating Girona in the promotion play-off final last season – following five years in the second and third divisions – this was their moment to celebrate as a goal in each half from Lucas Boyé and Raul Guti ensured they remain part of the La Liga elite.
Huesca have joined Extremadura, Mérida and Lleida as the teams to have played two La Liga seasons and been relegated at the end of both.
And that was La Liga 2020/21.
When we return, fans should be back in stadiums, Real Madrid should have returned to the Bernabeu, Sergio Aguero will be a Barcelona player and Lionel Messi probably won’t be. As for anything else, who knows!
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