Is the Gianluigi Donnarumma-Milan relationship coming to an end?

Donnarumma made his debut as a 16-year-old for Milan in 2015, however, the Italy international is reportedly close to making the move to Serie A rivals Juventus.

Step forward Mike Maignan…

 

TOP STORY – DONNARUMMA OUT, MAIGNAN IN?

Lille goalkeeper Mike Maignan is poised to undergo a medical with Milan as Gianluigi Donnarumma edges closer to a blockbuster Juventus switch, according to widespread reports.

Donnarumma is set to become a free agent and the Milan star is yet to re-sign with the Rossoneri, who qualified for the Champions League.

Gianluca Di Marzio reports Milan are no longer waiting on Donnarumma as they step up their pursuit of Maignan, who will arrive in Italy on Tuesday after helping Lille to Ligue 1 glory.

 

ROUND-UP

- Fabrizio Romano says Massimiliano Allegri's priority is to take charge of Real Madrid, despite interest from former club Juve and Napoli in Serie A. Allegri is the favourite to replace Zinedine Zidane should he leave the Spanish capital. Despite securing a top-four finish, Andrea Pirlo is being tipped to leave Juve.

- There is set to be a coaching merry-go-round in Serie A this off-season. The front page of Tuesday's Corriere dello Sport says Porto boss Sergio Conceicao is favourite to succeed Gennaro Gattuso at Napoli, with the latter tipped to replace Simone Inzaghi at Lazio. Ex-Roma head coach Paulo Fonseca is the new first choice to join Fiorentina.

Inter must sell one star – Lautaro Martinez or Alessandro Bastoni – due to their financial situation, according to Corriere dello Sport. Martinez has been linked with Barcelona and Real Madrid, while Bastoni has attracted interest from Liverpool and Manchester City. There is also speculation regarding the future of coach Antonio Conte and star Romelu Lukaku, who is reportedly wanted by Chelsea, Barca and Madrid.

- The Telegraph claims Manchester United are prioritising the signing of Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho, who has long been tipped to join the Red Devils. Dortmund team-mate Erling Haaland is also wanted at Old Trafford, while Juventus superstar Cristiano Ronaldo has been linked with a sensational return.

Tottenham are interested in re-hiring Mauricio Pochettino, reports the Independent. Pochettino is in charge of Paris Saint-Germain after replacing Thomas Tuchel in January but he was unable to oversee a successful title defence this season.

Bayern Munich and Barcelona are targeting Liverpool's Georginio Wijnaldum on a free transfer, says Sky Sports.

Real Madrid star Karim Benzema does not believe head coach Zinedine Zidane will leave the Santiago Bernabeu amid growing doubts.

Zidane is widely expected to depart Madrid after a second spell in charge of the LaLiga giants, with former club and Serie A powerhouse Juventus a possible destination.

After claiming three consecutive Champions League titles and the LaLiga trophy in his first stint, Zidane returned to Madrid in 2019 and delivered another league crown last season.

However, Los Blancos were dethroned by city rivals Atletico Madrid this term.

As speculation mounts, Benzema told L'Equipe in a full interview to be published on Tuesday: "I don't see him leaving. He will not leave, you will see."

Madrid ended the 2020-21 season amid an 18-game unbeaten streak (W13 D5) in LaLiga – the longest current undefeated run of any team in the competition, and their best such run without a defeat within the same league campaign since March 2014 under Carlo Ancelotti (W15 D3).

Benzema was involved in 32 goals in LaLiga this season (23 goals and nine assists), his best tally in a single campaign in the league after surpassing the 2015-16 term (31 – 24 goals and seven assists).

Five out of the six assists provided by Rodrygo Goes ended in Benzema goals in LaLiga.

The domestic football season concluded at the weekend in typically dramatic fashion.

The title went down to the wire in France and Spain, while Champions League qualification was up for grabs for some big names in England and Italy.

Much of the focus during the closing rounds in Germany was on Robert Lewandowski's record bid, but there was no shortage of intrigue whichever way you looked.

It was in keeping with the rest of an unpredictable campaign, one that Stats Perform breaks down with the use of Opta data.
 

LILLE, LALIGA AND LUKAKU SHAKE THINGS UP

Lille, Atletico Madrid and Inter all have relatively recent history of league glory, but a pre-season wager would have fetched long odds.

In Ligue 1, Paris Saint-Germain had won seven of the previous eight titles and would have expected to do so again, having claimed a domestic treble and reached the Champions League final in 2020.

As it was, under new coach Mauricio Pochettino, they had to settle for pushing Lille all the way.

Les Dogues claimed the title but had already set a club points record when they reached 79 with two games to spare. PSG finished on 82, though, meaning Lille desperately needed the final two results to boost their tally.

Despite the presence of Real Madrid and Barcelona in LaLiga, Atletico's triumph was perhaps more likely, even if the impressive nature of it may have come as a surprise.

Although they stuttered on the home stretch and had to come from behind on the last day to edge out Madrid, Atleti spent 30 matchdays at the top of the table – a mark only bettered once in their 10 other title-winning campaigns (36 matchdays in 1995-96).

Indeed, Atleti are used to having to wait to celebrate, with 10 of their 11 championships seeing the destination of the trophy decided on the final day (all except 1976-77).

Inter are another big name but had been waiting even longer than Lille for their most recent title, with one Milan victory and then nine in a row for Juventus since the 2009-10 Nerazzurri treble.

Antonio Conte's men completed the job in style, though, confirmed as champions with four games to play before finishing with 91 points (behind only their 2006-07 haul of 97) and 89 goals (third-most behind the classes of 1949-50 and 1950-51 – 99 and 107 respectively).

Talisman Romelu Lukaku was involved in 35 of them, becoming the first Serie A player to have at least 20 goals and 10 assists in the same season since at least 2004-05.


BAYERN BACK ON TOP, CITY SCALING NEW HEIGHTS

In Germany, the title race was a little less exciting. Winners of everything in 2020, Bayern Munich took home the Bundesliga crown for a ninth successive season.

Prior to this run, no team had won more than three on the bounce, yet there appears no end to Bayern's dominance in sight. They have now won 52 per cent of the championships since the formation of the competition in 1963.

Julian Nagelsmann, arriving from RB Leipzig, will be the coach tasked with achieving 10 in a row and Hansi Flick has set the bar high. His 86 games brought seven trophies.

Manchester City could soon be reflecting on a similarly dominant dynasty having now claimed three titles in four seasons.

Pep Guardiola played a big part in Bayern's run and now has nine league wins in 12 top-flight seasons as a coach, although this was an unprecedented achievement, with City eighth on Christmas Day – the lowest position at that stage for an eventual Premier League champion.

A record English league run of 12 away victories played a pivotal role in City's season, while defending champions Liverpool saw a club-record 68-game unbeaten home run in the Premier League ended as they subsequently lost six consecutive league matches at Anfield for the first time in their history.

City could yet win the Champions League too, where Sergio Aguero is in line for his final appearance before his contract expires. He will hope it is as successful as his last league outing, during which he scored twice against Everton on Sunday to set a new record for the most Premier League goals by a player for one club (184).
 

RECORD-BREAKING LEWY DELAYS NEXT GENERATION

Aguero might have had his say on the final day, once the title was secure, but he largely took a backseat – unlike Lewandowski at Bayern.

His 41 Bundesliga goals broke Gerd Muller's long-standing record of 40 in a single season. The next-best tally in Europe's top five leagues in 2020-21 saw Lionel Messi trailing well behind on 30.

Lewandowski unsurprisingly also led Europe in expected goals, with his chances worth 32.2 xG, and expected goals on target, producing shots with a value of 35.8 xGOT.

As Lewandowski took the Kicker-Torjagerkanone and Messi went away with the Pichichi, Cristiano Ronaldo (29 goals) won the Capocannoniere, having also previously topped the charts in England and Spain.

Kylian Mbappe (27) was the leading marksman in France, while Harry Kane (23) earned the Premier League Golden Boot for a third time.

Kane is set to be the subject of intense transfer speculation throughout the close-season – replacing Aguero at City might be one option if he gets his wish to leave Spurs – and he will join Mbappe and Erling Haaland in that regard.

Haaland also scored 27 league goals and only just trailed Mbappe's seven assists with his six.

The expectation is both players will establish themselves as the world's best in the coming seasons, but it is now Lewandowski, rather than Messi and Ronaldo, they must surpass.

Athletic Bilbao defender Inigo Martinez withdrew himself from contention for a place in Spain's Euro 2020 squad because of concerns over his physical and mental health.

Luis Enrique named a 24-man squad for the tournament on Monday, with Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos the headline omission.

Ramos' absence would ordinarily mean a prominent role for Martinez, although he was another notable absentee, with Pau Torres, Diego Llorente, Aymeric Laporte, Eric Garcia and Cesar Azpilicueta comprising Luis Enrique's central defensive options.

Speaking at a news conference after the squad announcement, Luis Enrique did not go into detail over Martinez not being selected, simply saying there would be a statement after his briefing.

The 30-year-old then posted an explanation on social media, saying that he felt it was time to put his own wellbeing first for the good of both the national team and himself.

"These lines are very hard to write. The truth is that for some time I have not been 100 per cent physically or mentally to compete at the level of maximum demand required by the Athletic and national team jerseys," Martinez's statement read.

"I have come to the conclusion that, out of honesty with these shirts and with myself, I must stop. Take a step to the side to disconnect, recharge the batteries and quickly recover the strength that has always accompanied me.

"A few days ago I transferred this difficult decision to my club and to the national team, since I have been fighting all season to the fullest for my club and for the goal of participating in the Euro. 

"I have left everything on the pitch for it, but I believe that sincerity is the best for the national team in this difficult challenge that lies ahead."

Martinez has played 28 times for Athletic in LaLiga this season, largely matching the levels he has set throughout a distinguished career in Spain's top flight, the bulk of which came with Basque neighbours Real Sociedad before moving to San Mames in 2018.

A 68.2 per cent tackle success rate sits alongside his overall output in LaLiga (68.9) and is better than his average in Bilbao (60.3).

He has won 57.3 per cent of duels contested in 2020-21, a slight drop when compared to his whole career (59.5) and stint at Athletic (61.1).

Martinez is also reliably smooth in possession, completing 82.8 per cent of his passes this season – putting him 11th among Spanish-qualified defenders to have played 2,000 or more minutes in the division. That is up on 79.4 per cent for Athletic overall and 79.6 in his career to date.

Ronald Koeman's first season in charge at Barcelona was less than convincing, creating doubts about his future.

Koeman guided Barcelona to third place in La Liga in 2020-21, as well as lifting the Copa del Rey, but they bowed out of the Champions League in the last 16.

It was a season of change at Barcelona, with Joan Laporta taking over as president in March and recently stating they will undergo an off-season "renovation" and that their "cycle has ended".

 

TOP STORY - KOEMAN SET FOR BARCA SHOWDOWN TALKS

Ronald Koeman will sit down with Barcelona president Joan Laporta this week for showdown talks about his future, claims Diario Sport.

Koeman was appointed by previous president Josep Maria Bartomeu on a two-year deal in August last year.

Laporta will also likely inform the Dutchman to sell up to 10 players to fund their off-season transfer plans.

Barcelona have been linked with a host of players including Sergio Aguero, Erling Haaland and Georginio Wijnaldum this off-season.

 

ROUND-UP

- Fabrizio Romano claims that David Alaba will join Real Madrid irrespective of Zinedine Zidane's future. Alaba has completed and agreed to a pre-contract.

- Le10Sport claims Paris Saint-Germain are shaping as the favourites to sign Liverpool's off-contract midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum rather than Barcelona who are yet to make an offer for the Dutchman.

- Barcelona are weighing up an off-season move for Atalanta's German versatile full-back Robin Gosens, claims Diario Sport.

Milan will look to secure Fikayo Tomori from Chelsea on a permanent deal, with a €28million option to buy him, claims Fabrizio Romano.

- Arsenal have opted out of the race for Brighton's Yves Bissouma, boosting Liverpool's hopes of signing him reports The Mail.

- Leicester City are in the hunt for Sassuolo midfielder Jeremie Boga, joining the race along with Atalanta and Napoli, according to Calciomercato.

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola confirmed football's worst kept secret that star forward Sergio Aguero is set to join Barcelona this off-season.

It had widely been reported that Aguero had agreed to a two-year deal with LaLiga giants Barca on a free transfer, with his City exit confirmed two months ago.

Guardiola "revealed a secret" after City's 5-0 final-day win over Everton where Aguero signed off with a double as the club lifted the Premier League title on Sunday.

"I'm pretty sure, maybe I'll reveal a secret, maybe he is close to a agreeing a deal for the club of my heart, from Barcelona," Guardiola told BBC.

"He's going to play alongside the best player of all time, Lionel Messi. I'm pretty sure he's going to enjoy it and make my club Barcelona stronger and strongest with him on the pitch."

Aguero has been with City since 2011, making 389 appearances and scoring a club record 260 goals.

The 32-year-old won 15 trophies with City, including five Premier League titles, ending the club's wait in 2011-12 when he scored a dramatic late winner.

Aguero won the 2014-15 Premier League Golden Boot and is a two-time winner of City's Player of the Year, in 2011-12 and 2014-15.

Lionel Messi has won LaLiga's Pichichi Trophy for an eighth time and the fifth season running, after finishing the 2020-21 campaign with 30 goals.

Messi may well have played his final game for Barcelona. He did not feature in Saturday's win over Eibar, having been granted permission to take a break ahead of Argentina's Copa America campaign.

The 33-year-old is out of contract at the end of next month and it is not yet clear where his future lies.

Though despite the uncertainty, Messi has not failed to deliver on the pitch, and from 35 league appearances, he netted 30 times – 17 clear of Antoine Griezmann, who ranks second for Barca on 13.

Messi's goals came from a total of 196 shots, with 27 from his left, one from his right and two from his head.

Three of the goals came from the penalty spot, and three from trademark pinpoint free-kicks. Overall, Messi averaged a goal every 101 minutes in the 2020-21 league season.

Barring a huge effort by Sevilla's Youssef En-Nesyri, who faces Deportivo Alaves on Sunday, Messi will finish seven clear of his nearest rival, with Karim Benzema registering 23 league strikes.

Neymar was touched by the sight of Luis Suarez in tears after helping Atletico Madrid clinch the LaLiga title.

Their Barcelona bond remains, even though both have left Camp Nou, where alongside Lionel Messi they formed the famous 'MSN' strike trio.

On Sunday, Neymar was hoping to help Paris Saint-Germain win the Ligue 1 title, as they looked to overhaul leaders Lille on the final day.

But the Brazilian was also caught up in the drama of Saturday's finale to the Spanish LaLiga season, as Atletico pipped Real Madrid to glory.

Suarez, who made a painful exit from Barcelona last September, scored 21 goals in 32 league games as Atletico broke up the familiar Madrid-Barcelona duopoly.

His goals were worth a total of 22 points to Atleti, more than any other player in LaLiga this season.

The 33-year-old let his emotions flow after scoring the decisive goal in the final-day 2-1 win over Real Valladolid, breaking down at full-time while on a video call to his family.

It was that moment that tugged at the heartstrings of Neymar, who alongside a picture of the weeping striker wrote a message on his Instagram story: "Well done @luissuarez. I'm happy for you brother. You deserve it. You're a star."

England international Kieran Trippier revelled in winning the championship in just his second year in LaLiga.

Trippier wrote on Instagram: "CAMPEONESSSS! Wow, what a feeling! To win @laliga with this incredible group of players is a dream come true. Thank you to everyone who has supported me this year. Vamos!!"

Diego Simeone says Atletico Madrid's latest LaLiga title success feels particularly special in a year complicated by the coronavirus pandemic.

Atleti beat Real Valladolid 2-1 at Estadio Jose Zorrilla on Saturday to finish two points above Real Madrid, who themselves completed a turnaround by the same scoreline against Villarreal.

It is Atleti's 11th title and their second in nine years under Simeone, on top of winning two Europa Leagues, two UEFA Super Cups, the Copa del Rey and Supercopa de Espana.

That sees Simeone overtake Luis Aragones (seven trophies) as the Spanish side's most successful ever coach.

Atleti were top for 30 matchdays and, despite being given a scare by Madrid and Barcelona in the closing weeks, Simeone feels his side are deserving champions in what has been a tough year for everyone off the field.

"It has been a complicated year," Simeone told Movistar+. "It's one of the best years to be champions. I'm happy for a lot of people. 

"Many people have been lost to the virus. For Atletico to be champions is a different feeling.

"The two league titles we have won come with different feelings. The world is experiencing a bad situation and I hope that we have given a lot of people some joy.

"Spending as long as we did on top is huge. I'm grateful, especially to those who played less than others. We stuck to our goals throughout."

Long-serving boss Simeone, who has also guided Atleti to a couple of Champions League finals, hinted earlier this season he may soon seek a new challenge.

The 51-year-old accepts that his training methods can take their toll on players but can see a bright future for Atleti going forward as he hinted at a longer stay.

"I've no doubts that people can get tired, but I'm very hard-headed," he said. "I knew and know that this club can keep growing and I hope it will continue like this.

"The club have done incredible work. Miguel [Angel Gil Marin], Enrique [Cerezo] and all of the unseen people have given us stability beyond results. They've always wanted this.

"They're not here celebrating, but soon we'll all embrace."

Oscar Plano gave relegated Valladolid a shock half-time lead against Atletico, but Angel Correa's stunning solo effort – the Argentine's 20th direct goal involvement for Atleti across all competitions in 2020-21 – equalised before Suarez's winner.

Suarez's 21 top-flight goals have been worth 21 points to Atleti this season, more than any other LaLiga player, and Simeone was quick to praise both of his forwards, who have kept big-money signing Joao Felix out of the side during the run-in.

"I've been saying that Angel has needed a goal for a long time," Simeone said. "It makes me happy that he's been called up by the [Argentina] national team.

"As for Suarez, I said before that his surname speaks for itself!"

Ronald Koeman believes his first campaign in charge of Barcelona can be considered a positive one and is confident he will still be in charge next season.

Barca beat Eibar 1-0 in their final LaLiga game of the campaign on Saturday to finish third, five points behind Real Madrid and seven adrift of champions Atletico Madrid.

The Catalans also exited the Champions League to Paris Saint-Germain at the last-16 stage, as well as losing to Athletic Bilbao in January's Supercopa de Espana.

Koeman's side did exact revenge by beating Athletic in last month's Copa del Rey final, though, and the Dutchman feels that trophy has salvaged this season.

"We have won many points in the league since the start of 2021 and won the cup in a brilliant way," Koeman said after the late win at Ipurua.

"We were unable to take advantage at the top of the table when we could have and we must learn from that.

"If you'd told me in August we'd win a trophy and be fighting for LaLiga with two or three games to go, I would sign for it. 

"Hopes were too high during the season – that's how I see it. That's why I think it's not a bad season, far from it. 

"It is not the best possible season, but you can't ask for a double every year, or from a team that is still forming."

The 79 points collected by Koeman is the fewest of any Barcelona boss in their first 38 league games since Frank Rijkaard (72) in 2003-04.

This is the first season Barca have finished outside the top two since 2007-08 and the only time they have gone successive seasons without finishing top since between 2006 and 2008.

But Koeman, who hinted at a lack of support from those above him at his pre-match news conference, insists he is still at the start of a long-term process in Catalonia despite reports suggesting he will be replaced in the close season.

"I don't think this is my last game," he said. "I have a contract and, I don't know... you talk a lot about it, but I'm calm. If the club want to change something, they must talk to me.

"From the moment I arrived, the only signing made was [Sergino] Dest, on the last day of the window. The squad is not at the level we want to have at Barca.

"Many at the club agree with this. We are trying to improve the squad. There are older players, with all due respect, who can still give a lot.

"The younger players need to gain experience and will become better. You cannot change the squad in one season alone."

While Barca were battling to a 1-0 win at already-relegated Eibar on Saturday, Atletico picked up the win they needed against Real Valladolid to pip Real Madrid to the title.

Atleti have led the way at the summit for 30 matchdays and Koeman says his side can have no complaints about missing out on top spot.

"Atletico deserved to win the championship," Koeman said. "They have been leaders for a while and have a very well-made squad.

"In general, they were a little better than Real Madrid and Barcelona. Congratulations to them, and nothing more."

Barca were heading for a goalless draw with Eibar before Antoine Griezmann fired in an impressive acrobatic winner nine minutes from time.

He has been directly involved in 25 goals across all competitions in 2021 – 15 goals and 10 assists – which is behind only team-mate Messi (37) and Villarreal's Gerard Moreno (30) among LaLiga players.

And like his head coach, Griezmann hopes Barca can strengthen their squad during the close season.

"We are hurting after missing out on the title. We have failed in some important games and have to rest and see where we can improve for next year," he told Movistar.

"I will continue working like I have for the last two years, and the president will make his moves."

Zinedine Zidane will head into pivotal talks with Real Madrid "in the next few days" after his team finished the season empty-handed.

A 2-1 win over Villarreal on Saturday was a hollow success, given rivals Atletico Madrid also won to clinch the LaLiga title, and Zidane summed up his emotions afterwards by saying: "My mood is screwed up."

Late goals from Karim Benzema and Luka Modric saw Madrid turn around the home game, after Yeremy Pino gave Villarreal the lead.

That goal made Yeremy the youngest player to score away against Madrid in LaLiga in the 21st century, at the age of 18 years and 214 days.

Villarreal have a Europa League final against Manchester United in Gdansk ahead of them on Wednesday, but Madrid's season is over.

Zidane is widely expected to leave, but he held fire on confirming his plans in the wake of the Villarreal game.

"We have to be calm. I'm going to talk to the club quietly, but later. Not now," Zidane said. "In the next few days we will talk about it. Soon we will see what will happen, not only with me but also with the club for next season."

Had Zidane announced his departure, it would have taken a good deal of attention away from Atletico.

Instead, he praised Diego Simeone's team for lasting the pace in the title race, ultimately finishing two points clear of Los Blancos and seven ahead of third-placed Barcelona.

"We must congratulate Atletico who deserve it, because the team at the top deserve it," Zidane said in a post-game news conference.

"We have given everything on the field and I am responsible for everything. What the players want is to win."

Madrid finished their LaLiga campaign on an 18-game unbeaten run, winning 13 and drawing five in that sequence to apply pressure on one-time runaway leaders Atletico.

That goes down as their best run without defeat in a single league season since Carlo Ancelotti's Madrid also strung together 18 unbeaten games in the 2013-14 campaign, winning 15 times.

Yet Madrid finish the season without a pot to their name, after an early Copa del Rey exit to Alcoyano, a Champions League semi-final loss to Chelsea, and a Supercopa de Espana last-four defeat to Athletic Bilbao.

"We have not won anything. We know what we have to achieve," Zidane said. "The fans are the most important thing here. They have to be very proud of what the players have done. We have given everything."

The 48-year-old Frenchman became the world's most expensive footballer when he arrived at Madrid from Juventus in July 2001, and it might be a wrench to leave the club for a third time.

He has departed as a player and as a coach before, and he might not get another chance to return to the job he currently holds.

We should have known Diego Simeone would do it differently.

The customary celebrations were all there: the cheers, the hugs, the hoisting of the coach high into the air by jubilant, exhausted players.

Yet the most poignant moment of Saturday's post-match scenes at the Jose Zorrilla, where Atletico Madrid became LaLiga champions for the 11th time, was one of quiet reflection. Simeone, wiping his eyes, went to console dejected Real Valladolid players whose relegation was confirmed by that 2-1 defeat. His own emotions running their highest, he was still attuned to theirs.

Simeone has always seemed fuelled by the raw emotive power of a football match, more than any other coach among Europe's elite clubs. When he reels off platitudes in dour pre-game press talks, it's like he's frightened of wasting an ounce of energy; once the whistle sounds, he explodes into a 90-minute sideline supernova, frantic, impassioned, inspirational.

It was like that this season perhaps more than any other. This was his second league title with Atleti and eighth trophy – a record among those to have coached the club – in 10 years overall, but it feels like this one belongs to him most of all. This was the crowning of true Cholismo champions: a triumph built on the power of belief.

Atleti have defied expectations at almost every turn in 2020-21. Even on the final day, when they just needed a win against a team they had beaten 10 times in 11 games, it almost slipped away.

Oscar Plano, a former Real Madrid player, opened the scoring to give his old club hope only for Villarreal to take the lead in the capital, where Madrid knew only a victory would be enough to defend their crown. Angel Correa's dancing feet and inspired toe-poke levelled the scores with just Atleti's second shot on target of the match; nearly 200 kilometres away, Karim Benzema saw an equaliser disallowed by VAR. When Luis Suarez swept home his 21st goal of the season from the best throughball of the contest – an errant hoof by Valladolid substitute Michel – it felt like fate was overplaying her hand.

So it has been throughout nine months of hectic schedules and empty stadia. Exhausted Atleti players missed the succour of roaring fans like the rest, but the difference was their firebrand coach. Simeone demands the utmost, but he gives his players the conviction that they can deliver it, no matter what the outside world expects. It's brutal, unquenchable defiance. It's Cholismo.

Atletico have outperformed expectations so much this season they almost had little right to be champions. They have scored 67 goals from just 53.07 expected goals (xG) in LaLiga and conceded 25 from expected goals against (xGA) of 37.8. Add those differentials together and you get 26.73, the highest such figure in Europe's top-five leagues, and nearly 27 reasons why they should not have finished top.

Suarez, cast out of Barcelona as an expensive has-been, has outscored his xG by 4.85, a bigger number than in his final three seasons at Camp Nou. His 21 goals have delivered as many points, more than any other player in the competition.

Marcos Llorente, a defensive midfielder warming the Madrid bench before his move two years ago, is the first Atletico player to reach double figures for goals and assists in a single season since Diego Forlan in 2008-09. The only other 'double-double' in all of LaLiga this season was achieved by Celta Vigo forward Iago Aspas.

On February 1, Stats Perform AI gave Atleti a 79.9 per cent chance of winning the title thanks to their 10-point lead, yet they managed to allow the race to come down to the final day – and still win it by a whisker after falling behind.

That's what Simeone gives you. In a modern game supposed to be won by controlled variables and tiny percentages, Atleti just reminded us all what a little faith can do.

Luis Suarez will be forever grateful to Atletico Madrid for giving him a chance to lead a title charge following his departure from Barcelona.

Suarez had been a star at Barca since his arrival from Liverpool in 2014, yet his six-year spell at Camp Nou came to an abrupt end when he was deemed surplus to requirements by the club.

Lionel Messi was unhappy with the decision, which has proved even more bizarre given Barca's troubles, with Suarez ultimately proving decisive in the title race.

Atleti clinched their 11th LaLiga crown thanks to his goal on Saturday, which sealed a 2-1 comeback win over Real Valladolid, meaning Real Madrid's late turnaround against Villarreal was irrelevant.

Suarez's 21 top-flight goals have been worth 22 points to Atleti this season – more than any other LaLiga player.

And, in an emotional interview with Movistar, Suarez explained his debt to Atleti.

"The situation I experienced last summer was difficult, the way I was underestimated," the 34-year-old said.

"Barca didn't value me and Atletico opened their doors for me to keep on showing the player I am. I will always be grateful to this club for trusting in me."

Atleti had won four of their previous five LaLiga away games against Valladolid heading into Saturday's showdown, but their opponents – who were relegated as a result of their eventual defeat – went ahead in the 18th minute through Oscar Plano's breakaway goal.

Yet Angel Correa's stunning solo effort – his 20th direct goal involvement for Atleti across all competitions in 2020-21 – restored parity, before Suarez pounced on a Michel error to complete the turnaround.

It marks Simeone's eighth trophy win with Atleti, and his second LaLiga title. He is only the third coach to lead the club to two league crowns, while no other manager has accumulated such a silverware haul with Los Colchoneros.

Another key figure in the title charge has been Marcos Llorente, who finishes the campaign with 13 goals and 12 assists across all competitions.

"We're knackered," he added. "It's been a really tight season with a lot of games. It's been tough physically, but in the end we've got this crucial win and we've managed to win the title. The togetherness we have has been crucial to achieving this.

"We felt the nerves a bit today given it was such a key game, but we just wanted to win so as not to have to think about the result of the other game. At the break we managed to calm ourselves down and we went out there and turned the match around."

Atletico Madrid are Spanish champions again, Saturday's tense 2-1 win at Real Valladolid sealing the title seven years on from their only previous championship success under Diego Simeone.

Much like on that occasion, Atletico had to wait until the final day of the season to make absolutely sure of their triumph, something few would have predicted of their campaign not too long ago.

Simeone's men have been top for much of the season, granted, but in recent months their position at the summit became precarious.

It's fair to say they have ridden their luck over the past few weeks, including on Saturday as they had to come from behind at Valladolid, but their supporters will be fine with that after they eventually brought it home.

Following their title-clinching victory, we look back on the other matches that have been crucial in their success.

Atletico Madrid 6-1 Granada, September 27

Okay, maybe it's a little over the top to suggest Atletico's very first game of the season had much bearing on winning the title, but the manner of it was seriously impressive and set the tone for the rest of the campaign – even if they did draw their next two matches.

It was a particularly memorable outing for Luis Suarez, who, cast aside by Barcelona, netted a brace as he became the first player this century to score and assist on his Atletico debut.

Atletico romped to what was their biggest opening-day win under Simeone, and they've hardly looked back.

 

Atletico 1-0 Barcelona, November 21

Barca were in turmoil at times in the first half of the season and that gave Atletico the perfect opportunity to gain a psychological edge. With Suarez missing against his former club, the visitors might have fancied their chances, but Atletico prevailed to claim their first league win over the Blaugrana in more than 10 years.

Yannick Carrasco got the all-important goal as Atletico set a club record of 24 LaLiga games unbeaten, while Barca were left with just 11 points from their first eight league matches, their worst start to a season since 1991-92.

Eibar 1-2 Atletico Madrid, January 21

One aspect of Atletico's trip to Ipurua in January will be recounted time and time again by statisticians, and it's not that they came from behind to win. No, the most fascinating element of this game was that it was Marko Dmitrovic who broke the deadlock from the spot, becoming the first goalkeeper to score in LaLiga since Dani Aranzubia in February 2011. The last stopper to net a penalty was nine years before that.

 

But it was Atletico who had the last laugh. Suarez scored both of their goals, including a last-gasp penalty, to spare Los Colchoneros' blushes.

While a win away to Eibar – who've since been relegated – may not look like much, who's to say that having someone as reliable as Suarez to convert a late penalty under pressure wasn't the decisive moment in their title quest?

Barcelona 0-0 Atletico, May 8

At the halfway point of their season, Atletico were seven points clear at the summit with two games in hand on Real Madrid in second. They had been devastatingly effective in the first half of the season as they collected 50 points, but in the 18 matches since, that haul has plummeted to 33.

Atletico have been far more erratic since the turn and their trip to Camp Nou looked especially uncomfortable, as a defeat would have seen Barca go above them in the table, while any result other than a win will have given Real Madrid the initiative.

Marc-Andre ter Stegen impressed for Barca in the first half, making six saves, though clear-cut chances weren't exactly a regular occurrence, neither side even managing to reach 1.0 xG (expected goals) over the course of the game. Atletico faced a nervous wait to see if their neighbours would capitalise…

 

Real Madrid 2-2 Sevilla, May 9

The second part to a title-race double-header across May 8 and 9, Madrid and Sevilla both still fancied their chances of sealing the crown at this point, and what an occasion it was in Valdebebas.

Madrid looked to be heading to a remarkable defeat when they had a late penalty overturned because Eder Militao was controversially deemed to have handled in his own area at the start of the attack, with Ivan Rakitic converting the spot-kick to put Sevilla in front for the second time.

Toni Kroos saw a long-range shot deflect in off Eden Hazard deep into stoppage time but it was not enough – winning the title was no longer in their own hands.

 

Atletico 2-1 Osasuna, May 16

The title looked to be slipping from Atletico's grasp again last weekend, as Ante Budimir's 75th-minute header put Osasuna in front shortly after Madrid had gone 1-0 up at Athletic Bilbao – at this juncture Los Blancos were top by a point.

Renan Lodi levelled for Atletico with 82 minutes on the clock but that wasn't going to be enough, as they would still sit behind Madrid due to their inferior head-to-head record. They needed another.

 

With two minutes left, Suarez ended something of a mini-drought to clinch victory, his 20th goal of the season, a haul that had secured Atletico 19 points at that point – only Sevilla's Youssef En-Nesyri could match that at the time.

The goal sparked joyous celebrations on the pitch, Atletico's bench and in the stadium's car park where a group of supporters gathered.

It left them with the two-point advantage over Madrid that was required heading into the final day, with Simeone's men subsequently refusing to throw it all away against Valladolid, despite falling behind once again.

 

Oscar Plano put Valladolid in front in the first half, but Atletico rallied after the interval as Angel Correa netted a brilliant equaliser and Suarez sealed the win 23 minutes from time, Madrid's own turnaround against Villarreal elsewhere ultimately an irrelevence.

Atletico are the champions.

Zinedine Zidane and Real Madrid missed out on the title and had to find comfort in the late comeback that brought a 2-1 home win against Villarreal in LaLiga.

Madrid have ended a season without silverware for the first time since 2009-10, and there are doubts over whether captain Sergio Ramos and particularly coach Zidane will remain at the club.

Needing a win here to stand any chance of overtaking Atletico Madrid, the long-time leaders, Zidane's team were sorely lacking in quality and looked set to end their campaign on a losing note.

LaLiga has worthy champions in Atletico, with Madrid trailing here for much of the game to a goal from 18-year-old Yeremy Pino, before Karim Benzema netted an 87th-minute leveller and Luka Modric fired a stoppage-time winner.

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