In what felt like a final from the very beginning, Barcelona played like champions. The Catalan giants defeated a hard-working, tough Atlético Madrid team to open up an 11-point gap at the top of the La Liga table and pretty much secure the title with seven matches left. The Blaugrana were the better team on the pitch and deserved to win, but a 10-man Atlético fought like warriors until Luis Suárez and Lionel Messi finally found a way to break them down, get three gigantic points and effectively end the title race.
The start of the game was very even, with both teams having some nice, long stretches of possession trying to create chances. The biggest opportunity in the first 20 minutes came when Lionel Messi played a genius pass to Jordi Alba who was alone in front of Jan Oblak, but the full-back could only hit the post. Other than that, there wasn’t much action around either box as both teams were pretty solid at the back.
Barça had another huge chance when Philippe Coutinho found himself in plenty of space at the edge of the box, but Oblak made a truly fantastic save. By that moment Barça had established their dominance, and things got better for them when Diego Costa received a straight red card for offending the referee.
For the rest of the half Diego Simeone’s men went to a very tight 4-3-2 formation that caused a lot of trouble for the Blaugrana offense, and Barça could not create a real chance to score other than a Messi shot from distance that was easily saved by Oblak. The Atlético keeper made one more save on a Coutinho header, and the visitors successfully survived the rest of the half with 10 men.
At halftime, Barça needed to be sharper and more creative in the final third to get the winner, and Atlético were ready to survive some more.
The stage was set for the second half: Atlético were going to put nine men behind the ball at all times and dare Barça to try and break them down, while the Blaugrana needed to show patience and creativity to find opportunities to score. But the Colchoneros needed the win, so Simeone made a bold substitution: Álvaro Morata came on for Filipe Luís, with Saúl Ñíguez going to left-back. The visitors were ready to attack, which would leave some spaces in behind for Barça to try and exploit.
The counter attacks started coming for Barça, with Messi running at the Atlético defense and creating for himself and others. Oblak continued to make save after save from shots by Messi, Suárez and Malcom, and it was starting to look like a matter of time before Barça found the back of the net. And the goals finally came, very late: in a matter of 75 seconds, Luis Suárez scored a beautiful curling shot and Lionel Messi ran in behind the defense, beat José Giménez and passed the ball into the net.
After finally defeating Oblak and securing the win, Barça just passed the ball around until the final whistle came to end the title decider. There are still seven games left, but Barça are 11 points clear and have the head-to-head advantage along with a nice remaining schedule. Barring the biggest collapse in the history of sports, the best team in Spain will be back-to-back La Liga champions.
Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Roberto (Semedo), Piqué, Lenglet, Alba; Rakitic, Busquets, Arthur (Malcom); Messi, Suárez, Coutinho (Aleñá)
Goals: Suárez (85’), Messi (86’)
Atlético: Oblak; Arias (Correa), Giménez, Godín, Filipe Luís (Morata); Koke, Rodri (Juanfran), Thomas, Saúl; Griezmann, Diego Costa
Red Cards: Diego Costa (28’)