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Title showdown: La Liga rests on 90 epic minutes

AS AS 17/05/2014 Santi Giménez

A historic moment in Spanish football is here. It isn’t a unique one, because this situation – one in which two contenders go head to head for the title – has happened before. But never like today, when most fans will be able to watch on as drama turns to glory live and in Technicolor, during an hour and a half of passion.

Whatever happens this evening between six and eight o’clock, whatever the outcome, it will live long in the memory. 37 matchdays of battles, suffering, injuries, agonising encounters, unfair draws and games that appeared foregone conclusions but were lost, all come down to 90 monumental minutes, with Barcelona and Atlético in touching distance of glory.

Today, mantras count for nothing. For once, Diego Simeone’s one-game-at-a-time narrative is no longer of use to him. After this evening’s match, there’ll be no more encounters with which to put events in the league right. For Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino, his narrative of adapting to a new environment ran out long ago. He knows there’ll be no tomorrow for him as a Blaugrana. He faces the possibility of going out in style or with his tail between his legs.

Both teams know they’re up against an epic duel in which only one can remain standing. There are no favourites, because the circumstances that work in favour of either side cancel each other out. Barça have the advantage of playing at home and in front of their fans, while for Atleti a draw will be enough to see them leave the Camp Nou as champions.

As far as the players called up for the clash are concerned, both coaches have decided that this isn’t the time to hold anyone back. Everyone old enough for service will be ready for an encounter that could see them write their names into the history books. The forces are balanced in all areas of the pitch – except in goal, where the Barcelona fans may long for Víctor Valdés more than ever.

For Barça, Gerard Piqué, Jordi Alba and Neymar return after six-week lay-offs. They lack training time and have a World Cup around the corner, but don’t want to miss this match.

Simeone also has all of his warriors ready, particularly the fiercest: Diego Costa, who will start in the Ciudad Condal despite his fitness issues.

In this sense, Barcelona have a certain advantage in that they do not have a final in Lisbon. Whatever happens this evening, their season is over; meanwhile, Atlético will still have a silver bullet in the barrel. There can be no escaping that the result at the Camp Nou will have an influence on the Champions League showpiece just as much as it will not have even the slightest bearing on the decisions taken at Barça from Monday onwards.

© Toni Garriga

Barça come into what is a must-win encounter having drawn their last two encounters and proved incapable of overcoming Atlético in their last five direct clashes. What’s more, Leo Messi (who is fresh from signing a new deal at the club) has failed to score in his last six against Simeone’s men.

Atlético, meanwhile, arrive in Barcelona safe in the knowledge that their fight and effort have made them the league season’s heroes. However, they also remain mindful that they could have finished things off before today, and are fearful of paying for their late slip-ups. The outcome will be delivered in 90 minutes fit for the finest video library. Take your seats.

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