Last weekend after drawing with Getafe, Barcelona boss Tata Martino effectively gave up on La Liga. “We have come as far as we could go,” he said, before going on to say, “We do not deserve it”. Sergio Busquets and Xavi Hernandez echoed similar sentiments. Then Atletico Madrid lost Levante and, well, the race was back on. But where last weekend Barcelona were throwing in the towel, this weekend they showed that they really do not want it.
At the Estadio Manuel Martinez Valero, Barca did not look a side fighting for the League title. Yes they dominated possession, as always, and created chances too. But, they did not do enough with the ball nor create enough clear-cut chances. There was also a distinct lack of intensity about them too. Though, this should come as no surprise.
Despite still being in contention to retain their crown, in the week prior to Sunday’s clash there had been a conspicuously holiday-feel at the club. Martino hosted a barbecue for his players on Tuesday while the club put on a fancy party at a swanky Barcelona hotel on Thursday night. The players were even given Friday off.
It was hardly the kind of preparation a club challenging for a major honour employs in the days leading up to an important game. And, Barca paid for it. Elche, who were and are fighting for survival, fully deserved their point. They defended well, were organised and even looked threatening when going forward. Manu Herrera’s performance in goal needs to be applauded too, he was simply unbeatable.
The Blaugrana’s nonchalant attitude is most strange and it borders on complete arrogance. Yet, it perhaps is more a result that the club has been too focused on forgetting the past – well, this season at least – and looking to the future, post-Martino, instead of dealing with the present. And yet, going into the final day they still have a chance to keep hold of their title. And they have Malaga to thank.
The Andalucians travelled to the Vicente Calderon where they took on Atletico Madrid who were hoping to wrap up their first title since 1996. This hope translated into nervous tension around the terraces and even on the field. There was not that assuredness about Atleti and Malaga looked to take full advantage of it, taking the lead through Samuel on sixty-five minutes.
But, to their credit, Atleti responded quickly. They equalised not ten minutes later and went on the attack for the final twenty minutes. However, it was not to be as Malaga held out for a draw that does them less good than the damage it did to Atletico. This is because with Elche holding Barca, a win for Atletico would have seen them crowned champions. But, it was not to be – least not until Sunday.
And what a day Sunday will be. Not since 1951 has La Liga been decided between the two teams at the top on the final day. It is surely to be special, whatever the outcome.
For Barcelona, it is simple – they have to win. For Atletico, a win or a draw will be good enough. It really will be final like any other. The only difference is that while one team so anxiously wants to win La Liga and have played to their absolute maximum and a bit more all season long to get so far, the other has been well below their best and seems not to care too much for it.
For their lax attitude, Barca might just again pay for it in a few days’ time. Then again, especially at home, they might just find the inspiration to win the League again. But this is what Atletico plan to do too. The captain of Los Rojiblancos said after his teams’ draw, “We are going to the Camp Nou to get at least a point and be champions”. All of which should make for fitting finale to what has been the most exciting La Liga season for some time.