SPANISH SOCCER

Atlético Madrid and Barcelona get ready for unique Liga ‘final’ at Camp Nou

Title race to go down to wire after both contenders slip up on Sunday Real Madrid waves farewell to hopes after Celta defeat

Toby Alderweireld heads in to level the match for Atlético Madrid.
Toby Alderweireld heads in to level the match for Atlético Madrid.ALBERTO DI LOLLI / AFP

A heart-stopping, emotional roller-coaster of an afternoon on Sunday left this year’s Liga title still hanging in the balance. The fight between leader Atlético Madrid, which stalled with a 1-1 tie at home to Málaga, and second-placed Barcelona, which could only manage a 0-0 tie away at Elche, will now go right down to the pair’s last game of the season, which just happens to be against each other in Camp Nou at 6pm next Saturday. Real Madrid, meanwhile, said goodbye to its title chances with a 2-0 defeat against Celta in Vigo.

Atlético’s lack of accuracy in front of goal saw its opportunity to seal the Liga championship for the first time in 18 years in front of a home crowd slip through its fingers. After Belgian Toby Alderweireld had cancelled out Samuel’s 65th minute goal, it had a couple of chances to take victory, above all when Málaga keeper Willy Caballero saved from Adrián in the dying moments. It seems that if Diego Simeone’s team really is destined to win the league this season, it will do so in keeping with the club’s history, suffering and fighting until the end.

If I put myself in the shoes of the fans, I would be really proud” Atlético coach Diego Simeone

The feeling in the air is that Atleti has had the title in its pocket for the last two weeks, but it has been unable to tilt in its favor this final stretch of the championship, which has seen Barça give away two consecutive ties (against Getafe and Elche) and Real unseated after only earning two points from the last nine available.

Now it will have to measure up against current champion Barcelona on the latter’s home turf to secure victory in what will be a genuine final, a unique and exciting matchup in every possible sense. For Atleti, on 89 points, a tie will be enough; for Barcelona, on 86, only a win will do to draw level on points and take the championship by virtue of its better head-to-head record.

“We are going to finish equal first, so what this team has done is marvelous,” said Atlético coach Diego Simeone after the match. “We have a final against Barcelona and another against Madrid, in Lisbon [in the Champions League]. If I put myself in the shoes of the fans, I would be really proud of this team.”

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