Atletico Madrid have painted the streets of the Spanish capital in red and white on Sunday as they clinched their 11th La Liga title with a thrilling 2-1 comeback victory against Valladolid. Diego Simeone’s men outclassed their rivals throughout the season, ending the decades-long duopoly of Real Madrid and Barcelona at the top of Spanish football.
While the top-three clubs ended the season with victories, it was a disappointing night for Villarreal, who lost to Real Madrid 2-1 in their last game of the season. That defeat resulted in the 2020-21 Europa League finalistsbeing kicked out of the Europa League next season.
Here’s our look back at the 2020-21 La Liga season:
ATLETICO ARE THE CHAMPIONS
Atletico Madrid had to wait seven years to bag the La Liga once again – seven years spent in frustration as they were outclassed by Cristiano Ronaldo’s Real Madrid and Lionel Messi’s Barcelona. But a lacklustre performance by both Barcelona and Real Madrid this season allowed Diego Simeone’s men to break ahead of the pack early – they were 11 points clear of their nearest rivals during mid-season. A late comeback from both European giants, however, gave Atletico fans the jitters, and it all came down to the wire on Sunday as both Real Madrid and Atletico fought it out for the title.
DISAPPOINTMENT FOR REAL AND BARCA
Atletico’s title victory might have ended the two-decade-long dominance of Spanish football by Barcelona and Real Madrid. Zinedine Zidane noted in February that his team was in contention for the title race when pundits had decided the race already in favour of Atletico Madrid. Simeone’s men had a disastrous February which was followed by a lacklustre March, which allowed the richest clubs in Europe to narrow the gap. Both teams had numerous chances to move past Atletico at various points in the season, but they wasted their chances to move to the top.
Barcelona were out of contention for the title race entering last week, while Real’s title hopes rested on a poor performance by Atletico. There will be numerous questions to be asked at both the clubs, especially as the historically dominant teams failed to make a mark on the European stage.
Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Sevilla retained their Champions League spots comfortably, where the Spanish clubs will be hoping for better fortunes. Real Sociedad and Real Betis booked Europa League berths, while Villarreal finished their season on a disappointing note – they managed to finish just seventh with 58 points. But Unai Emery’s men will be looking forward to Thursday, when they face Manchester United in the Europa League final – a victory would assure them a berth in the Champions League.
It is no surprise that Lionel Messi is the most valuable player of the season – the Argentinian GOAT scored a whopping 30 goals this season – seven more than second-placed Karim Benzema and Gerard Moreno. Luis Suarez was unceremoniously transferred to Atletico Madrid from Barcelona, but he proved to be the most valuable player for the champions by scoring 21 goals.
Gerard Moreno’s individual brilliance kept Villareal in contention for a Champions League berth throughout the season, but it wasn’t enough in the end. Jan Oblak was a crucial factor in Atletico’s successful season – the Slovenian won the Zamora trophy with the lowest goal-to-game ratio this season.
PROMOTIONS AND RELEGATIONS
Cadiz, Elche and Huesca were promoted to La Liga at the start of the season, but only the Pirates were able to make their mark this season, finishing 12th with 44 points. Elche narrowly avoided relegation, finishing two points clear of Huesca, who will once again fall back to the Segunda Division. Valladolid and Eibar, who were able to establish themselves in the top tier of Spanish football in recent years, lost their lustre and will join Huesca in the Segunda Division next season.Espanyol and Mallorca, who were both relegated last season, will return to La Liga after a year’s gap. Both teams managed to finish at the top of the division, with just a point separating both teams. Five teams – Leganes, Almeria, Girona, Sporting Gijon, and Rayo Vallecano – are in contention for the promotion play-offs, which will decide the third club to be promoted to La Liga next season.