Barcelona are the champions of Spain, with their 1-0 win over Atletico Madrid at the Vicente Calderon securing the La Liga title with a week still to play in the season. And of course, who could score the title clinching goal but Lionel Messi?
To be bluntly honest, the first half was dull. Barcelona dominated possession, as they often do, but were mostly content to take low-percentage shots in crowded areas, from long range, or from poor angles. Atletico seemed the more dangerous side despite not taking as many shots, and their constant harrying of Barcelona's back line held potential for causing an upset and extending the title chase to the last week of the season.
Barcelona weren't really that bothered by the pressure, though, playing a somewhat more defensive style that Atleti struggled to break down. The Catalans and title favorites were content to just dominate possession and make occasional forays at goal, absorbing the worst that Atletico threw at them with an almost bored-looking ease.
It seemed that Barca were waiting for a moment of magic to break the deadlock, and of course only one man was going to do that. It was Lionel Messi working his mystifying black arts, almost single-handedly beating the entire Atleti defense before unleashing a lightning bolt of a shot that beat Jan Oblak, but may have burned through him even if he had gotten in the way.
That goal sparked more of a fight from Atletico, but it was too little, too late. If anything, Barcelona looked more likely to score the second goal of the match, but even if they had it wouldn't have mattered, because they'd done everything they needed to today already.
Congratulations, Barcelona, for winning the La Liga title. The Catalan giants waged one heck of a campaign, and have definitely put the disappointments of the last couple of seasons behind them. Atleti deserve credit for making this a fight, but this result was a foregone conclusion almost from the start.
Atlético Madrid: Jan Oblak; Juanfran, Jose Gimenez, Diego Godin, Guilherme Siqueira; Gabi, Mario Suarez (Raul Garcia 68'); Arda Turan (Mario Mandzukic 72'), Antoine Greizmann, Koke; Fernando Torres (Saul Niguez 80')
Barcelona: Claudio Bravo; Dani Alves, Gerard Pique, Javier Mascherano, Jordi Alba (Jeremy Mathieu 80'); Ivan Rakitic (Rafinha 86'), Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta (Xavi 82'); Pedro, Lionel Messi, Neymar
Goal: Messi (65')
1. Barcelona knew the title was won before the first kick of the match
Coming in to this match, it would take a massive reversal of fortunes for Barcelona to lose the title. They could easily afford to draw against Atletico, especially with a favorable home matchup next weekend. Even with that in mind, though, Barcelona certainly looked like a side who felt they'd already won the title, mostly just going through the motions in attack. Yes, they outshot Atletico by a wide margin, but especially in the first half, they just lacked their normal edge and bite going forward, and a lot of those shots came from areas in front of goal that weren't terribly likely to see them score. They mostly seemed content to absorb the significant pressure Atletico were throwing at them, and patiently waiting for Messi to work his magic and win them the title.
2. Atletico are very, very good, but they aren't at Barca's level
Atletico Madrid fully earned their title a year ago in La Liga, but they also managed to be at their best in a year when neither Real Madrid or Barcelona were near theirs. With the changes their rivals were able to make this summer, Atletico were always going to have a hard time repeating, and they just couldn't keep up with the title contenders this season despite their best efforts. That showed again today when they struggled mightily to break down a Barcelona side that wasn't fully stepping on the gas, and they need to figure out how to get better without the spending power of Barcelona and Real if they want to push for another title.
3. Atletico can make a lot of money from selling Koke, but they need to keep him
Koke is signing a new contract at Atleti, but the general consensus seems to be that it's mostly a move to raise his release clause, trying to make sure they get as much money out of a sale of the 23 year old as they can. If there's any way they can realistically manage it, though, Atleti need to find a way to keep Koke, because he's so important and fitting to how they play. His energy and talent mesh with Diego Simeone's high press, all-action style perfectly, and his versatility in role and position makes squad management a lot easier. It was little surprise that almost everything good for Atleti today involved Koke in some way, be it winning possession high up the pitch or helping build up attacks with his quality passes. Since he's only going to get better from here, Atleti will almost certainly be better off with him in the side than with a pile of money that may or may not wind up help them find someone who can adequately replace him.