Home FitnessTraining Luis Suarez makes Barcelona regret clear with Atletico Madrid on brink of La Liga title – Mirror Online

Luis Suarez makes Barcelona regret clear with Atletico Madrid on brink of La Liga title – Mirror Online

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With 15 minutes remaining at the Wanda Metropolitano on Sunday, the nerves and anxiety were palpable.

On La Liga’s penultimate matchday, Atletico Madrid were being held at home by Osasuna.

Some 250 miles north of the Spanish capital, Real Madrid were leading 1-0 at Athletic Bilbao.

As the live table stood, Zinedine Zidane’s side would leapfrog Atleti at the top of the table going into the final round of matches.

Only a victory would ensure Diego Simeone’s team would lead the way going into next week’s finale, while a win coupled with their city neighbours dropping points would clinch a first league title since 2014 and only their second this century.

Fans were not in either stadium. A sizable group of Atleti fans had gathered in the car park outside the stadium, chanting throughout the game to encourage their heroes. They knew they could be celebrating a title but feared they could be mourning a historic collapse.

Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone

Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone
(Image: REUTERS)

After all, their team had once led La Liga this season by a points tally in double digits – while they holding multiple games in hand over their rivals.

The first half of the campaign saw them collect 50 points from their opening 19 matches. But they collected only 30 in their next 17 – the lowest rate of any of the top four, to create title race where there looked unlikely to be one.

Atletico are a club who thrive in the role of the underdog, but they had struggled with the label of not only being title favourites, but of having one hand on the title.

So as the match ticked into the 75th minute of their clash against Osasuna – comfortably in mid-table with nothing aside from pride to play for – everything was to play for.

Nacho’s opener for Los Blancos in Bilbao meant all eyes were on Atleti; could they really blow this? They had dominated the game, twice hitting the post and twice having goals ruled out for offside.

It was beginning to feel like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Atletico Madrid supporters outside the Wanda Metropolitano

Atletico Madrid supporters outside the Wanda Metropolitano
(Image: JAVIER LOPEZ/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

Then, their worst fears began to play out.

Osasuna’s Ante Budimir pulled away from his marker to find space at the back post and power a header towards goal.

Atletico goalkeeper Jan Oblak clawed the ball away amid a huge appeal from the Croatian striker that the ball had crossed the line. Without goal-line technology, the decision went to the VAR room.

Time seemed to stop in the stadium, as everyone looked at the referee – watching, waiting.

The goal was given. Osasuna had the lead.

Atletico had 15 minutes to score twice to salvage their season.

Ante Budimir of Osasuna celebrates

Ante Budimir of Osasuna celebrates
(Image: NurPhoto/PA Images)

Six minutes later, roaming Atleti full-back Renan Lodi sprinted forward into the Osasuna penalty area, latching onto a delicious scooped pass from Joao Felix.

He took a touch, composed himself and then lashed high into the roof of the net. 1-1. Luis Suarez rushed into the net to retrieve the ball and get the game back underway asap.

Outside the ground, the fans roared.

Another six minutes elapsed with Atleti knocking at the door. Then Yannick Carrasco found space in the box, worked a yard and cut a low ball back towards the penalty spot.

There waiting, having held his ground as defenders retreated back towards their own goal, was Suarez, who side-footed home the winning goal.

It was the Uruguayan’s 20th league goal of the season, his most important for Los Rojiblancos and the strike that may well prove to be the definitive goal in this season’s title race.

Luis Suarez celebrates his goal against Osasuna

Luis Suarez celebrates his goal against Osasuna
(Image: AFP via Getty Images)

Suarez – who celebrated his 34th birthday in January – had joined the club for a nominal fee from Barcelona, after being unceremoniously dumped by the club’s former president Josep Maria Bartomeu.

Left to cry in the Camp Nou dressing room, he has now exacted full revenge on his former employer, who have endured their own unprecedented collapse in recent weeks to see their own title hopes crumble.

They lost at home to Granada in a match they led and which would have placed them top of the league with five rounds of games remaining. Then they were held at home by Atletico and blew 2-0 and 3-2 leads at Levante to draw 3-3.

Sunday was another collapse, going a goal up at home to Celta Vigo before losing 2-1.

Lionel Messi shows his dejection during the defeat to Celta Vigo

Lionel Messi shows his dejection during the defeat to Celta Vigo
(Image: Getty Images)

The reason the Blaugrana fell short in this season’s title race was not because of Suarez’s exit: Ronald Koeman’s side netted 84 league goals, at least 19 more than any other team.

Their shortcomings are myriad and a penalty-box striker, whilst welcome, is far from being their most pressing priority.

Suarez was forced to leave because the club urgently needed to cut their wage bill, and he was viewed as expendable. While still lethal inside the penalty area and capable of being decisive La Liga, he had become a burden for Barcelona in Champions League knockout games.

Due to his age and physical limitations, Suarez was no longer able to press opposition defenders nor meaningfully help his side in a defensive sense.

At Camp Nou, that was coupled with similar shortcomings of Lionel Messi – meaning that the club had to accommodate two attacking players who were no longer able to help defensive shape.

They usually had enough firepower to overcome mid-to-lower table La Liga sides, but were far too open defensively in European competitions, as highlighted by heavy and humiliating Champions League exits to Roma, Liverpool and Bayern Munich.

Will Ronald Koeman remain next season?

Will Ronald Koeman remain next season?
(Image: REUTERS)

The decision to allow Suarez to leave last summer was not necessarily incorrect.

But Barcelona made a serious error to allow him to join a direct rival in La Liga.

They effectively told a highly-motivated striker that he was no longer useful to them, and gave him a genuine grievance whilst gift-wrapping his move to a title rival.

There can now only be regret in Catalunya given what has transpired.

Atletico celebrate Suarez's winner vs Osasuna

Atletico celebrate Suarez’s winner
(Image: Getty Images)

Suarez’s goals have fired Atletico to the brink of a historic league title, although they still know that a victory at Real Valladolid on Saturday is required to ensure the triumph.

Valladolid – owned by former Barcelona and Real Madrid striker Ronaldo – must win if they are to avoid relegation, so they will not be lacking in motivation.

If Simeone’s side drop points and Real Madrid defeat Villarreal – who will likely rest players ahead of their Europa League final against Manchester United – then the title will go to their city rivals.

Barcelona are no longer in the picture, set to finish outside the top two for the first time since pre-Pep Guardiola.

But the Blaugrana will be very much aware that their decision last summer may well prove decisive in the destiny of this season’s title.

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