Atletico Madrid win LaLiga 2020-21: The key games that sealed Simeone's second league title

By Sports Desk May 22, 2021

Atletico Madrid are Spanish champions again, Saturday's tense 2-1 win at Real Valladolid sealing the title seven years on from their only previous championship success under Diego Simeone.

Much like on that occasion, Atletico had to wait until the final day of the season to make absolutely sure of their triumph, something few would have predicted of their campaign not too long ago.

Simeone's men have been top for much of the season, granted, but in recent months their position at the summit became precarious.

It's fair to say they have ridden their luck over the past few weeks, including on Saturday as they had to come from behind at Valladolid, but their supporters will be fine with that after they eventually brought it home.

Following their title-clinching victory, we look back on the other matches that have been crucial in their success.

Atletico Madrid 6-1 Granada, September 27

Okay, maybe it's a little over the top to suggest Atletico's very first game of the season had much bearing on winning the title, but the manner of it was seriously impressive and set the tone for the rest of the campaign – even if they did draw their next two matches.

It was a particularly memorable outing for Luis Suarez, who, cast aside by Barcelona, netted a brace as he became the first player this century to score and assist on his Atletico debut.

Atletico romped to what was their biggest opening-day win under Simeone, and they've hardly looked back.

 

Atletico 1-0 Barcelona, November 21

Barca were in turmoil at times in the first half of the season and that gave Atletico the perfect opportunity to gain a psychological edge. With Suarez missing against his former club, the visitors might have fancied their chances, but Atletico prevailed to claim their first league win over the Blaugrana in more than 10 years.

Yannick Carrasco got the all-important goal as Atletico set a club record of 24 LaLiga games unbeaten, while Barca were left with just 11 points from their first eight league matches, their worst start to a season since 1991-92.

Eibar 1-2 Atletico Madrid, January 21

One aspect of Atletico's trip to Ipurua in January will be recounted time and time again by statisticians, and it's not that they came from behind to win. No, the most fascinating element of this game was that it was Marko Dmitrovic who broke the deadlock from the spot, becoming the first goalkeeper to score in LaLiga since Dani Aranzubia in February 2011. The last stopper to net a penalty was nine years before that.

 

But it was Atletico who had the last laugh. Suarez scored both of their goals, including a last-gasp penalty, to spare Los Colchoneros' blushes.

While a win away to Eibar – who've since been relegated – may not look like much, who's to say that having someone as reliable as Suarez to convert a late penalty under pressure wasn't the decisive moment in their title quest?

Barcelona 0-0 Atletico, May 8

At the halfway point of their season, Atletico were seven points clear at the summit with two games in hand on Real Madrid in second. They had been devastatingly effective in the first half of the season as they collected 50 points, but in the 18 matches since, that haul has plummeted to 33.

Atletico have been far more erratic since the turn and their trip to Camp Nou looked especially uncomfortable, as a defeat would have seen Barca go above them in the table, while any result other than a win will have given Real Madrid the initiative.

Marc-Andre ter Stegen impressed for Barca in the first half, making six saves, though clear-cut chances weren't exactly a regular occurrence, neither side even managing to reach 1.0 xG (expected goals) over the course of the game. Atletico faced a nervous wait to see if their neighbours would capitalise…

 

Real Madrid 2-2 Sevilla, May 9

The second part to a title-race double-header across May 8 and 9, Madrid and Sevilla both still fancied their chances of sealing the crown at this point, and what an occasion it was in Valdebebas.

Madrid looked to be heading to a remarkable defeat when they had a late penalty overturned because Eder Militao was controversially deemed to have handled in his own area at the start of the attack, with Ivan Rakitic converting the spot-kick to put Sevilla in front for the second time.

Toni Kroos saw a long-range shot deflect in off Eden Hazard deep into stoppage time but it was not enough – winning the title was no longer in their own hands.

 

Atletico 2-1 Osasuna, May 16

The title looked to be slipping from Atletico's grasp again last weekend, as Ante Budimir's 75th-minute header put Osasuna in front shortly after Madrid had gone 1-0 up at Athletic Bilbao – at this juncture Los Blancos were top by a point.

Renan Lodi levelled for Atletico with 82 minutes on the clock but that wasn't going to be enough, as they would still sit behind Madrid due to their inferior head-to-head record. They needed another.

 

With two minutes left, Suarez ended something of a mini-drought to clinch victory, his 20th goal of the season, a haul that had secured Atletico 19 points at that point – only Sevilla's Youssef En-Nesyri could match that at the time.

The goal sparked joyous celebrations on the pitch, Atletico's bench and in the stadium's car park where a group of supporters gathered.

It left them with the two-point advantage over Madrid that was required heading into the final day, with Simeone's men subsequently refusing to throw it all away against Valladolid, despite falling behind once again.

 

Oscar Plano put Valladolid in front in the first half, but Atletico rallied after the interval as Angel Correa netted a brilliant equaliser and Suarez sealed the win 23 minutes from time, Madrid's own turnaround against Villarreal elsewhere ultimately an irrelevence.

Atletico are the champions.

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    Kieran Trippier has confirmed he attracted "strong interest" from Manchester United last year before returning to the Premier League with Newcastle United.

    Trippier swapped a LaLiga title defence with Atletico Madrid for a relegation battle with Newcastle this month, with the England full-back joining Eddie Howe's side for a reported fee of £12million.

    The 31-year-old spent two-and-a-half seasons at Atleti after leaving Tottenham in 2019, helping Diego Simeone's side clinch a LaLiga title last year.

    There were reports since early in 2021 that Trippier wished to return to England, and United were heavily linked.

    Trippier has now confirmed that United and Atleti held discussions before the 2021-22 season, after England's run to the final of Euro 2020, but the potential move broke down over the Spanish club's demand that his release clause, reported at around £50m (€60m), was met.

    "After the Euros, there was really strong interest," Trippier told Newcastle great Alan Shearer in an interview with The Athletic.

    "I've got to be careful what I say because I don't want to get into trouble, but yeah, there was interest. We had conversations, but Atletico Madrid just wanted my release clause and it was a lot of money for a 30-year-old, so I understand why Man United didn't do that.

    "There were other clubs interested too. Anyway, it's gone now, so it doesn't bother me."

    Trippier hopes Simeone, who has established himself as one of world football's leading coaches during his decade-long stint at Atleti, follows him from LaLiga to the Premier League.

    "I'd love to see him working in England. I know he was learning English about a year ago, and his partner speaks English," Trippier said.

    "The thing about Simeone is that because he's so passionate when he's talking in the dressing room, I think it would get to him if he wasn't completely fluent. But I would love to see him in the Premier League. I think everyone would."

    Simeone's pragmatic approach has sometimes come in for criticism, but there can be no doubting its success.

    "It's a bit unfair, because Simeone has been so successful. He's won eight trophies," Trippier added, before referring to a comment Jurgen Klopp made about Atleti not playing "proper football" after Liverpool's defeat to Los Colchoneros in the 2019-20 Champions League knockout stage.

    "I understand where Klopp is coming from, but if you're playing at Anfield you can't go toe-to-toe with [Liverpool] because you'll get punished.

    "Everybody has their own system or set-up and Simeone's is different. It's worked for him."

    Trippier's decision to leave Tottenham came after Mauricio Pochettino's side had reached the 2019 Champions League final, losing to Liverpool - ironically, at Atleti's Wanda Metropolitano stadium.

    The former Burnley defender enjoyed a fine 2018 World Cup, but felt his form dropped off slightly afterwards. However, he also hit out at Spurs chairman Daniel Levy, who he claims was engineering a sale while the season was ongoing.

    "f you look back to the last few months of my Tottenham career, I admit that I wasn't at the levels that I was at the World Cup and there's no excuse," he said.

    "After the Champions League final, it felt like the right time to move on.

    "What annoyed me, I know 100 per cent for a fact – and this is what I was most angry about – that two months before the end of the season, Daniel was offering me to other clubs.

    "I knew for certain that was happening, so I knew my time there must be up. I was playing for my team-mates and the supporters, but I also knew I wasn't wanted."

  • Newcastle United target Diego Carlos staying at Sevilla – Monchi Newcastle United target Diego Carlos staying at Sevilla – Monchi

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    The 28-year-old joined Sevilla in 2019 from French side Nantes and has established himself as a key part of Julen Lopetegui's stubborn backline, which boasts the best defensive record in LaLiga this season having conceded just 16 times in 22 games.

    Newcastle manager Eddie Howe was keen to add Diego Carlos as they try to ensure their Premier League safety, but Monchi's latest comments appear to suggest he will have to look elsewhere for defensive reinforcements in the current window.

    Speaking to i, the renowned sporting director said: "The Newcastle offer was a good offer, a respectable offer. I have to say that. But our board and management team thought it wasn't enough.

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    "I was talking to Diego this morning and he's happy," he added. "At the end of the day he's staying here at his club, a club that really wanted him.

    "If he was really angry then maybe he would have changed his opinion, but he seems happy."

    He also had words of praise for the way Newcastle conducted business but reiterated his belief that negotiations have now ended between the two clubs.

    "We've had conversations based on a lot of respect. They've understood that we can reject their offer," Monchi said.

    "The first contact comes from the player's agent. They said, 'Maybe Newcastle are prepared to make an offer'.

    "The first offer was a month ago. With Newcastle, it's been very correct the way it's gone ahead. We've had video calls and each side has explained their view.

    "We consider the negotiation finished because I don't think we're going to start negotiations again because we're all clear how we think about this transfer."

  • 'Vlahovic will bring the goals Juventus need' – Tardelli 'Vlahovic will bring the goals Juventus need' – Tardelli

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    Tardelli, the former Inter, Juventus and Italy midfielder, has no doubt Vlahovic - who seems set to join Juve from Fiorentina before the end of the transfer window - will be a success in Turin.

    Juve have struggled in attack this season, scoring just 34 times across 23 matches. That ranks them 11th in Serie A for goals scored, way behind Inter's league-leading 53. Their issues were on show for all to see on Sunday, when the Bianconeri managed just eight attempts against Milan, with none hitting the target in a 0-0 draw.

    Vlahovic has scored 17 league goals for Fiorentina this term in 21 appearances. In 2021, the 21-year-old equalled the record set by former Juve star Cristiano Ronaldo for the amount of Serie A goals scored in a calendar year with 33.

    "An important purchase. He has the qualities Juventus need. He will bring Max [Allegri] the goals Juve missed," Tardelli told La Gazzetta dello Sport.

    "You can see that he has something special even when he doesn't score, he is one who also plays for the team.

     

    "He has shown personality. He will improve even more thanks to his new team-mates, he can score more.

    "Will he feel the pressure? You never know the reaction upon joining a great team, but playing with higher-level people usually helps you."

    The Serbia international seems set to be Serie A's latest posterboy, but Tardelli does not believe Vlahovic can yet be compared to some of the league's greatest players.

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    "Not that [Vlahovic] has little talent, but they are players with another physical strength, who have more to rely on than he does."

    Allegri has consistently ruled Juve out of the title race this season. The Bianconeri sit fifth, a point behind Atalanta in fourth but 11 adrift of leaders and champions Inter.

    Tardelli says Juve need to strengthen in other departments to became a real force once again.

    "There is also a need for more, especially in midfield," he said. "Someone has to lend a hand to [Manuel] Locatelli. For next year, somebody must also be found for the defence, some changes must be made.

    "[Giorgio] Chiellini can't be eternal, I don't think they trust [Daniele] Rugani very much."

    Key to providing the ammunition for Vlahovic for the remainder of this season will be Paulo Dybala, who is yet to sign a new contract with Juve – his deal runs out at the end of the campaign.

     

    Tardelli believes Dybala must step up, despite the Argentina international being Juve's top scorer in all competitions this term with 11 goals, while nobody in the squad betters his 15 direct goal contributions.

    "One player like him is never too many," Tardelli said of Dybala. "Contractual issues will be dealt with, but he must prove that he is worth what he asks for.

    "Lately he has not been the leader Juventus needed. Too inconsistent. I don't know how much he was affected by COVID and how much by the renewal issue."

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