Competition
  • Champions League

Atlético leave the field open for Barcelona

Sporting Gijón’s spirited comeback caused Atlético to collapse in El Molinón and the rojiblancos have waved goodbye to Barcelona in the title race. The chances of Diego Simeone’s side winning the league were already remote, but it was good of them to keep a bit of pressure up on Barça, just in case. Now the leaders bags are packed, destination back-to-back Liga triumphs. Luis Enrique’s side are out in front alone, flicking through the calendar to see when they will be crowned again. If it was more or less foregone before, it’s official now. Barcelona have achieved the feat by their own merits, but the final push over the line was given by Sporting’s young side, a new generation, who overturned a 1-0 deficit.

Sporting displayed enthusiasm and craft in their substitutions. Atlético were completely the opposite. The visitors thought they had wrapped up victory too early, settling into a watching brief, and Simeone took off Antoine Griezmann, the side’s sharp attacking edge. In his absence Luciano Vietto was lost, the Argentinean failing to define a single counter-attack. In the last 20 minutes the difference between the sides was highlighted by Sporting’s two goals and two strikes against the woodwork. El Molinón enjoyed the afternoon. The home fans urged their team on, in the good times and the bad, and went home happy, with three points and the prospect of survival more tangible.

The result removed any interest from Sunday’s match in Vila-real, but it added a little to the one in the Bernabéu. If Real Madrid beat Sevilla, Zinedine Zidane’s side will move to within a point of Atlético. It might make no difference coming second or third, with both representing direct access to the Champions League, but it does make a difference to the capital city rivalry; the question of who is boss of their own back yard. Finishing first in that mini-league is to win something, finishing second to lose something else. Zidane has that with which to motivate his players, whose appetite has been removed. Sevilla will come to the Bernabéu with their own motivation: aiming for fourth and the final Champions League spot.