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Season review: Spain

Published: Wednesday 11 June 2014, 12.20CET
Club Atlético de Madrid broke their top-flight points, wins and goals records as they racked up a tenth Liga title, and first for 18 years, in a memorable season for Spanish football.
by Paul Bryan
from Madrid
Season review: Spain
Diego Simeone has won the Liga as player and coach with Atlético ©Getty Images
Published: Wednesday 11 June 2014, 12.20CET

Season review: Spain

Club Atlético de Madrid broke their top-flight points, wins and goals records as they racked up a tenth Liga title, and first for 18 years, in a memorable season for Spanish football.

Few other coaches could have uttered the words "taking things game by game" more than Diego Simeone managed during the 2013/14 Liga campaign.

That the Argentinian tactician turned a sporting cliche into a motivational mantra for his Club Atlético de Madrid players will be one of the many memories held from a Spanish season in which the Rojiblancos stunned the 'big two' to win their tenth top-flight title. And how close the Colchoneros came to a remarkable double, with Atlético denied a first European Cup by Real Madrid CF in a dramatic UEFA Champions League final. There was no shortage of drama either for Sevilla FC, whose third UEFA Europa League triumph further boosted Spain's soaring footballing pedigree.

Champions: Club Atlético de Madrid
Atlético may have posted their best-ever start to a season with eight straight victories – including away to eventual third-place finishers Madrid – but defending champions FC Barcelona matched them all the way, allowing Simeone to play down his side's chances of glory. Yet after a 4-0 win against Real Sociedad de Fútbol in week 22 sent the Rojiblancos clear at the top for the first time in the campaign, the 44-year-old's attempts to dismiss the possible were proving trickier. Making light of Radamel Falcao's pre-season departure to AS Monaco FC, forward Diego Costa redoubled his efforts, weighing in with 27 goals.

Sitting behind the Liga's meanest defence, meanwhile, goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois registered 20 clean sheets, the Chelsea FC loanee thus collecting his second successive Zamora trophy – awarded to the keeper with the lowest goals conceded to games played ratio. With a midfield marshalled by captain consistent Gabi, Raúl García helping with his share of goals and Koke continuing to enhance his reputation, all of Atlético's ingredients were in place. "Game by game" they reached the last weekend of term needing to draw at Barcelona to be champions for the first time since 1996 – which they duly achieved thanks to Diego Godín's equaliser.

Cup final: Real Madrid CF 2-1 FC Barcelona
Madrid attacker Gareth Bale endured a frustrating start to life at the Santiago Bernabéu following his reported €100m switch from Tottenham Hotspur FC. However, the Wales winger's fitness issues were long since forgotten by the time he burst away from Barcelona defender Marc Bartra to score one of the more memorable Copa del Rey final goals five minutes from the end of these rivals' seventh meeting at this stage of the competition. Bartra's earlier effort had cancelled out Ángel Di María's opener before Bale's strike ensured a 19th Copa del Rey for the Merengues.

European places*
Club Atlético de Madrid – UEFA Champions League group stage
FC Barcelona – UEFA Champions League group stage
Real Madrid CF – UEFA Champions League group stage
Athletic Club – UEFA Champions League play-off
Sevilla FC – UEFA Europa League group stage
Villarreal CF – UEFA Europa League play-off
Real Sociedad de Fútbol – UEFA Europa League third qualifying round
*Subject to final confirmation by UEFA

©AFP/Getty Images

Atlético captain Gabi

Player of the year: Gabi (Club Atlético de Madrid)
Formed in Atlético's youth ranks, midfielder Gabi – now in his third and most successful spell in the capital following stints at Getafe CF and Real Zaragoza – proved an inspirational captain as his team broke the Madrid/Barça ten-year title duopoly. Though there may have been more decisive players during Atlético's championship run, the 30-year-old – scorer of three goals in 36 top-flight outings in 2013/14 – showed a determination and fighting spirit that infected all around him. Gabi capped a fine campaign by delivering the corner for Godín's title-clinching goal in the climactic game at Camp Nou.

One to watch: Ander Iturraspe (Athletic Club)
The 25-year-old Iturraspe enjoyed his finest season to date as the Leones came fourth to secure a UEFA Champions League play-off berth. His strong tackling combined with hard work and admirable ability to bring the ball out from the back drew the attention of Spain coach Vicente del Bosque, who offered the defensive midfielder his international debut against Bolivia at the close of the campaign.

Surprise package: Athletic Club
Athletic last featured in the UEFA Champions League group stage in 1998/99 but Ernesto Valverde's side will have an opportunity to return to the tournament via a play-off thanks to their fourth-place finish. After racking up 20 Liga wins and losing just twice at their impressive new San Mamés home, the Lions sealed fourth with two games to spare. "For a team like ours, finishing behind Atlético, Barcelona and Real Madrid is a triumph, especially with this club's special philosophy," Valverde said.

Leading scorer: Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid CF (31)

Relegated: Real Betis Balompié, Real Valladolid CF, CA Osasuna

Promoted: SD Eibar, RC Deportivo La Coruña, Córdoba CF

Number: 593
Just seven matches shy of his 600th for the club, Barcelona captain Carles Puyol announced he would be leaving his boyhood team this summer due to a long-standing knee injury. The news of Puyol's decision followed that of the untimely death of Barça's 2012/13 Liga-winning coach Tito Vilanova, who passed away at 45 following a long illness.

Quote:
"Today will go down as one of the most important in this team's history. To leave Barcelona as league champions, there is only happiness. I now want to go back and see the city of Madrid decked out in red and white."
Atlético coach Simeone – a domestic double winner as a Rojiblancos player in 1996 – on his side's championship success on the final day of the season.

Last updated: 03/07/14 14.41CET

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