It was cagier than it perhaps needed to be at times, but Atletico Madrid secured their 11th LaLiga Santander title on Saturday evening as they came from behind to win 2-1 at Real Valladolid.
Having made the trip knowing that a win will guarantee they pip cross-city rivals Real Madrid to the post, Diego Simeone’s Colchoneros made life as difficult as possible for themselves. Real Madrid, hosting Villarreal, did all they could as they scored in the 87th and 92nd minute to win.
Atleti stated their intentions early on and looked to get at their hosts. Luis Suarez looked to have gone through inside a minute only to have set off from an offside position, but the Uruguayan did send a volley wide inside the opening 10 minutes as Yannick Carrasco and Angel Correa looked lively.
Toni Villa tested Jan Oblak with a long-range effort, but it was dragged and always looked to be an easy save for the Atleti goalkeeper.
The warnings from that weren’t heeded by Atletico, though, and they somehow found themselves behind with less than 20 minutes on the clock. Following a corner for Simeone’s side, Valladolid managed to break and Oscar Plano was put through on goal by Marcos Andre from inside his own half. Getting towards the box, Plano finished tidily into the near-bottom corner.
Los Colchoneros, perhaps boosted by the news that Real Madrid had also fallen behind at home to Villarreal, kept pressing though and while they looked vulnerable to a counter-attack, they came close twice. First Kieran Trippier’s cross was headed into the side netting by Jawad El Yamiq, and Jordi Masip easily saved a header from the resulting corner.
On the half-hour mark, Suarez came close to finding the top corner as he had a curling left-footed strike deflected wide, and Felipe headed over from the subsequent corner.
Within 30 seconds of the second half starting, Suarez had another chance and Atletico had half-hearted appeals for a penalty. Marcos Llorente charged down the right and fell over under a slight touch as he squared to Suarez, whose headed effort was tame and never troubling goal. Both Suarez and Llorente wanted a spot-kick for the contact on Llorente but their enquiries were emphatically waved away.
The early attempted onslaught continued with another penalty appeal waved away just moments later, with Llorente again involved, but Jose Maria Gimenez then had a huge chance and headed over the crossbar.
In what has been a season of twists and turns, there was a minute that epitomised that perfectly as the hour mark neared. News that Karim Benzema had scored was filtering through just as Correa poked home a gorgeous equaliser for Atleti, beating two men and prodding through Yamiq’s legs and into the bottom corner from the edge of the area. As they celebrated, it was confirmed that Benzema’s strike at Valdebebas had been ruled out after a VAR check.
Valladolid should have gotten themselves back in front moments later, with Joao Felix and Renan Lodi ready to come on. Oblak pulled off a good save but the ball fell to Shon Weissman right in front of goal, though the forward somehow headed over the bar to Atleti’s relief.
After over an hour of edginess, Atleti finally got themselves ahead through a rather predictable source in Suarez, who grabbed his 21st of the season. Sergi Guardiola gifted the No.9 the ball just beyond the halfway line and he bore down on Masip’s goal before finishing from the edge of the area, allowing Los Rojiblancos to get one hand on the title.
From there, and even despite Benzema’s late leveller and Luka Modric’s subsequent stoppage-time winner for Real Madrid, Atletico knew they just had to see the game out and they did exactly that. Simeone made timely changes to break up any rhythm Valladolid looked to find, and they got over the line to win the title for the first time since 2014.
Valladolid, for their part, had their relegation to the Segunda Division confirmed with the defeat. Even a win, though, wouldn’t have been enough as Elche managed a 2-0 defeat of Athletic Club.