Diego Simeone's men showed incredible courage to claim La Liga at Camp Nou on Saturday and record a victory nobody but they themselves had believed in
After losing Diego Costa and Arda Turan to injury, they fell behind to Alexis Sanchez's stunning strike in their title decider on Saturday, but back they came to claim La Liga thanks to a battling 1-1 draw - and it was thoroughly deserved.
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Simeone has changed the paradigm of this team from perennial losers to serial winners. The last time Atletico won La Liga was back in 1996 and then, the Argentine's header set the Rojiblancos on their way to Primera Division glory. Some 18 years on, Simeone's head has inspired their latest title triumph - a victory nobody had thought was even possible many months or even weeks ago.
After all, the club's small squad seemed inadequate. And mentally, how could they cope in what had been constantly called a two-team league, with no side other than Barca and Madrid to have won it since 2004? With a budget some 400 million euros lower than their two title rivals, how could they expect to succeed over 38 rounds of the championship? But they have - and it's not the first time.
Atleti's stunning season in La Liga
|4||Just four league defeats for the team, one less than both Barcelona and Real Madrid in 2013-14|
|26||Los Rojiblancos conceded fewer goals than any other side in La Liga|
|27||Diego Costa scored 27 times and many of those were crucial goals en route to this title triumph|
|28||Diego Simeone's side also won more games than Barca and Madrid (27)|
|90||Atleti ended the season with 90 points, three more than their two title rivals in 2013-14|
This season started with back-to-back draws against Barca in the Spanish Supercopa. The Rojiblancos held the Blaugrana to a 1-1 draw at the Vicente Calderon before a goalless game at Camp Nou in the return. Barca claimed the trophy on away goals, but a precedent had been set.
In the teams' first league meeting this term, spoils were shared in another 0-0, but Simeone's side got the better of Barca over two legs in the Champions League quarterfinals, winning the second match 1-0 after a 1-1 draw at the Calderon. Atleti had beaten Chelsea, it had beaten AC Milan and it had beaten Madrid. Now, for the first time, it had beaten Barcelona, too.
Indeed, in six games against the Catalans in 2013-14, Atletico remains unbeaten. But Saturday's success was arguably the most memorable of all because it took a monumental effort for this team to show such strength and courage at the end of a gruelling season to shake off key injuries to Costa and Turan early on and then get back into the game after Barca had taken the lead.
Tense early on, the Camp Nou was rocking after Alexis' amazing goal. But Barca was unable to make home advantage count, despite the support of its vocal supporters and that, again, is partly down to Simeone's stubborn side.
"It's a joy that I can't explain. Today is one of the most important days in the history of the club. We made history." Simeone said afterwards. And Diego Godin added: "Football has done us justice. We fought for the whole year and we have worked incredibly hard. It's very difficult to hold off Madrid and Barcelona for 38 rounds!"
But they have managed it - and that in itself is an amazing achievement. This team never ever gives up and while Barca had lifted itself for a title decider after seemingly throwing in the towel recently, Simeone's side believed all along - even when nobody else did. And that's why Atletico is the champion, a worthy winner of a competiton controlled since 2004 by Barca and Madrid. What a team!