For most of 2021, Atletico Madrid seemed to be squandering their chances of winning their first league title in seven years. It was the same story on Sunday. Before Luis Suarez changed his mind.
Diego Simeone’s side allowed Zinedine Zidane’s tired but relentless Real Madrid to briefly step top of La Liga and take charge of the title race with less than 10 minutes remaining in the penultimate round of fixtures. Renan Lodi and Suarez scored late goals to help the Rojiblancos come back to defeat Osasuna 2-1 at the Wanda Metropolitano, keeping their destiny in their own hands.
With a 2-1 loss to Celta Vigo in what may be Lionel Messi’s last home game at Camp Nou, Ronald Koeman’s Barcelona ruled themselves out of the chase, but there were cheers among partisan journalists in Catalunya as reports of Suarez’s goal arrived.
Suarez’s decision to abandon Barcelona for next to nothing has been mocked all season, but the Uruguayan’s 20th goal in La Liga could well have denied Barcelona’s bitter rivals Real Madrid the title. Suarez’s 20 goals have won Atletico 19 points, and no player in the division has had a greater impact in that respect.
Atletico has never been solely focused on football. Simeone is a firm believer in the club’s ideals, which include effort, determination, integrity, hard work, family, and, yes, pain. That is why, against Real Sociedad in midweek, supporters assembled in the car park to cheer them on. And why they did so again here, ensuring their team could hear them from inside the stadium. They saw them too, outside the Wanda, with fans occupying the nearby streets. Setting off flares and attempting to build some excitement to welcome the team bus. Though they will not be allowed in.
Suarez had the first major chance of the game when the ball fell to him behind the defense. Sergio Herrera saved his shot with his foot. Suarez was given more chances, but he couldn’t connect with Mario Hermoso’s low ball into the box.
He kept knocking on the fence. Striking the post from close range after excellent work by Angel Correa. He should have had a hat-trick by the end of the first half. He jumped out at the automated billboard hoardings after pulling an attempt high off the far post. For the time being, annoyance. Then there was a joy.
Atletico had plenty of opportunities, with Saul Niguez heading over Kieran Trippier’s cross, but Herrera’s net had a lucky escape. Too much so that when Stefan Savic equalized, it didn’t count because the defender was slightly offside.