Luis Suarez still the real deal as Atletico Madrid win La Liga title
Uruguayan striker proves his class on the day, and throughout the season, to help Atletico win their second championship in seven years
And the winner of La Liga's last laugh of the season goes to ... Luis Suarez! When Barcelona unceremoniously parted ways with the Uruguayan striker last September, new manager Ronaldo Koeman deeming the scorer of 198 Barca goals peripheral to his plans, it felt a decision that could backfire.
More so, initially, at whether Barcelona could ably replace a player of proven class, a lethal striker, and crucially a favoured teammate of Lionel Messi. That was when Suarez was expected to join then Italian champions Juventus.
Once he hot-footed over to the Spanish capital after his move to Turin fell through, for a maximum transfer fee of €6 million, it ushered with it a sense of foreboding. Barca had significantly strengthened a direct rival while ridding themselves of a game-changing No 9.
Now with a full Liga season to reflect upon, the Suarez factor has indeed made all the difference. While the Uruguayan was deep in title celebrations with this Atletico Madrid teammates on Saturday, Barcelona's campaign petered out in the modest surroundings of Eibar, where their final game, which they won 1-0, was deemed so unimportant that captain Messi was granted permission to end his season early. Barca secured third place, seven points behind Atletico.
Over in Valladolid, the stakes were somewhat higher for both teams with the hosts still clinging on to faint survival hopes and Atletico determined not to let their two-point lead over Real Madrid slip on the final day.
It was Valladolid who took the lead, in the 18th minute, when Oscar Plano finished a slick team move. As fortune would have it for Atletico, Real Madrid also found themselves trailing to Villarreal in the first half to ensure the red and white half of the city retained their advantage.
Atletico improved significantly after the halftime break and got their deserved equaliser when Angel Correa showed quick feet before toe-poking home a low finish.
Then, 10 minutes later, who else but Suarez to give his team a massive boost by scoring what proved to be the winning goal after racing onto a sloppy back pass and calmly finishing past the goalkeeper. It was his 21st La Liga goal of the season.
Atletico's five-point lead over Real Madrid lasted up until the final two minutes when their rivals scored twice in quick succession, through Karim Benzema and Luka Modric, to beat Villarreal 2-1. Suarez's winning goal ultimately sealed the title.
It felt a microcosm of Atletico's season and indeed Suarez's contribution to their title-winning campaign. Barcelona have been able, in some ways, to replace Suarez's goals - the Catalans outscored Atletico 85 to 67 - but they have undoubtedly missed the Uruguayan's ruthless, win-at-all-cost approach to the game and his experience in pressure moments.
I am just delighted the way Atletico have appreciated me. Thank you for trusting in me.
Barcelona cast him aside, feeling that at 34-years-old, Suarez no longer possessed the qualities that would help them regain the title. How he has proved them wrong and it may end up costing Koeman his job.
"I am just delighted the way Atletico have appreciated me," an emotional Suarez said. "They have given me the chance to show I can still perform on this stage. Thank you for trusting in me."
Ultimately, though, Atletico's title triumph has been a true team effort. As Real Madrid relied heavily on Benzema this season and Barcelona continued to place most of the burden on Messi, Atletico have shared the responsibility.
Marcos Llorente scored 12 and assisted 12 and Correra contributed to 17 goals - nine scored, eight assisted - while Joao Felix and Yannick Carrasco also reached double figures across goals and assists.
For all of his individual brilliance for Barca, Suarez was always the ultimate team player and he has found a team, and coach, that have appreciated and utilised his skills.
"My work is to help the team and pay them back by scoring goals," Suarez said. "Atletico is a huge club and we have shown it this season. We have been the most regular performers and that is why we are champions."
Published: May 22, 2021 11:20 PM