The 2015/16 season of the La Liga was an exciting one, with Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid making sure the race for the title went down to the very last day.

It was a fantastic La Liga season, one which had fans on the edge of their seats till the very end of last games of the season. Barcelona, even with their mini-implosion towards the business end of the season, managed to hold off pressure from Atletico and Real Madrid to clinch the trophy on the last day of the season. This was Barcelona’s 24th league title and the 8th since the turn of the century. As expected, it was a battle closely fought between Barcelona, Real and Atletico Madrid. They were head and shoulders above the rest, with the difference between 3rd and 4th place a massive 24 points.

The action wasn’t restricted to only the top half of the table, with many sides battling for their lives to avoid relegation. Unfortunately, along with Getafe and Levante, it was also the end of the road for Rayo Vallecano in the top flight after 5 years. The results on the final game day of the season decided their fate, but after 5 years of winning hearts and new fans in the Spanish top flight, Paco Jemez and his side prepare to return to the Segunda with their reputations intact, if not enhanced.

Barcelona’s leaving it late

Going into the last week of the season, history sided with the Catalans. Barcelona had never lost out on the title on the last day of the season and Real Madrid had never come from second place to seal the title. However, for a few weeks it looked as if Barcelona had squandered their chance to win the title. In March, they had a huge lead on top of the table and had almost sealed it, before disaster struck. It seemed as if Barcelona just could not stop losing. After the passing of the legendary Johan Cruyff, the Catalans had the opportunity to honour his legacy when they played the second El Clasico of the season a few days later. In what was a surprise turn of events, they lost 1-2 to a 10 man Real Madrid. This was their first defeat after going a record 39 games unbeaten at home. They would go on to beat Atletico Madrid at home in a controversial 2-1 victory at home three days later to keep their Champions league hopes alive.

Real Sociedad vs FC Barcelona

However, they suffered a shock defeat at the hands of Real Sociedad in the weekend and then got eliminated from the Champions League by Atletico Madrid the following week. It seemed as if Barcelona were imploding after a sudden loss of form. To make things worse, they lost 1-2 to Valencia at home for a second consecutive defeat at home. It was the same Valencia side whom they had ripped apart 7-0 earlier in the season. The world was in shock at the series of events and Barcelona had let go of the huge lead they had on their rivals Atletico and Real. After the Valencia game, Barcelona manager Luis Enrique insisted that he was confident that his side would recover from this slump in form. They had to win their next 5 games without exception and the title would be theirs. Lose or draw any of them, rivals Atletico or Real would go on to win it.

Enrique’s faith and confidence in the character and abilities of his men was justified. The Blaugrana won the next 5 games and scored 24 goals in the process, conceding none. Looking back at the way Barcelona signed off, it seemed as if they wished to give their rivals from Madrid a shred of hope, only to crush it later.

Gary Neville’s Spanish nightmare

The aforementioned 2-1 victory over the Catalans was the highlight of Valencia’s season. A horrid season for Los Che which saw Nuno Santo get sacked after a bad run of form in the league and having failed to confirm qualification for the Champions League knockout rounds. Billionaire owner Peter Lim then decided to call upon a friend of his to take over at the helm at the Mestalla. That friend was none other than Manchester United legend turned much loved footballing pundit, Gary Neville. His short stint at Valencia would go on to catch the world’s attention for all the wrong reasons.

Valencia CF press conference

It was a massive gamble to take, but not even the most pessimistic of fans would have imagined it could go so wrong. He had no prior managerial experience and didn’t speak Spanish. After he joined, they endured a 9 game win-less streak at the start of his reign. The worst of these defeats was on 3rd of February this year, when Barcelona thrashed them 7-0 in the semi-final first leg of the Copa Del Rey. His first victory came against Espanyol on the 13th of February. He also oversaw the elimination of Valencia from the Europa League at the hands of Athletic Bilbao. Neville was sacked in March when things seemed to be getting too out of hand and Pako Ayestaran was named as the new manager. The former Manchester United right-back left the club with 3 wins out of 16 games and he left the club at 14th place on the table, 5 places below where they were when he came.

The arrival of Zizou

Real Madrid fared much better than Valencia with their choice of manager, when they decided that a mid-season change of regime was necessary. Rafa Benitez was sacked after a draw against Valencia on the 3rd of January. Disappointing draws against Gijon and Malaga, a shock loss to Sevilla and worst of all, a 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Barcelona in the season’s first El Clasico did not help Benitez’s cause. Real didn’t look like a side happy to be playing under Benitez, however they did have a 10-2 dismantling of Rayo Vallecano to look back at fondly. Los Blancos were losing points unnecessarily and they were already well behind Barcelona going into the new year. That and rumours of tensions between players and the manager and a general feeling of dismay from the fans, made the Madrid hierarchy decide that it was time for Benitez to move on.

REAL BETIS VS REAL MADRID

Whether the promotion of Zinedine Zidane was either due to a lack of options or a well taken gamble, we will never know. But it certainly seemed to have paid off for Los Blancos. The French legend took over from Rafa Benitez at the start of the year and has led his team to a second place finish on the table and their second UEFA Champions League final in 3 years. His managerial abilities are yet to be proven properly, though his recent exploits only help add to his slowly growing reputation. His team managed to score 23 goals in his first 6 games. Injuries to Benzema, Bale and Ronaldo haven’t made it easier for him. Draws against Malaga, Real Betis and a loss to Atletico Madrid would prove to be costly for them in the race for the title.

Roma - Real Madrid

However, there are obvious positives from his half season in charge. He’s lifted the players up, instilled in them a new found confidence and the fans and the players now enjoy their football. He’s put his faith in youngster Lucas Vazquez and reaped its rewards. He’s also managed to bring the very best out of Bale, Modric and Casemiro.

An iconic figure of the game, he is one of the best football players in the history of the sport. His demeanour, though calm and peaceful, commands respect and has a player CV that absolutely demands it. Having someone for the players to look up to or be in awe of is a rarity at the Bernabeu but Zidane certainly fits the bill. He could very well be Real Madrid’s answer to Pep Guardiola.

The rise and rise of El Pistolero

For the first time since 2009, there has been a name other than that of Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi on the Pichichi trophy, and that name is Luis Suarez. With 40 goals this season, he is now one of the top three players in the world and if Uruguay were to perform well at the Copa America in the summer, he would be a hot contender for the Ballon d’Or. The significance of outscoring Cristiano Ronaldo or Messi in this day and age cannot be over stated.`In an era where the Portuguese and Argentine captains have only each other to compete with for individual awards and trophies, El Pistolero has stormed to the top of the scoring charts this year in spectacular fashion, getting 5 more than Ronaldo and finishing the season with a hat-trick.

FC Barcelona vs Atletico Madrid

Suarez hasn’t been stingy with the goals this season, and he’s tried to be as generous as possible with the assists. The Uruguayan has provided 16 assists in the league and 22 in all competitions. He is arguably one of the best center forwards in the world if not THE best in the world. The season has established Suarez in the top three of the world and at 29 years of age, El Pistolero can surely stick around for a few more years.

Here To Stay

Atletico had a disappointing end to their league campaign, going from top of the table, level on points with Barcelona to third place. They still have a UEFA Champions League Final to play against Real Madrid. Though they may not end the season with silverware, it is clear that it’s not just a two horse race for the title in Spain anymore. Simeone has transformed Atletico into a top European side and they are here to stay.

Real Madrid vs Atletico Madrid

Atletico have conceded only 18 goals this season in the league. That is an astounding statistic and they have one of the best defensive records in Europe as well. Simeone’s emphasis on a strong defensive foundation doesn’t allow for his attackers to get too many chances. Even with their limited attacking opportunities, Griezmann has been fantastic and they have a rejuvenated Fernando Torres who have scored 22 and 11 goals in the league this season respectively. Not great numbers if you’re challenging the ‘MSN’ and ‘BBC’, but they win games and that’s all that matters.

ATLETICO MADRID VS REAL BETIS

Greizmann has been brilliant for El Cholo’s side ever since he joined, nearly 2 years ago, from Real Sociedad. The young Frenchman has scored over 50 goals in a little over a 100 games for the club. His fearsome finishing ability and his lightning quick pace make him an integral part of the philosophy Simeone tries to apply. He has had to take over from Diego Costa and he did so in grand fashion. He was expected to form a partnership with Jackson Martinez, but the Colombian forward was a huge flop and didn’t make it past the January transfer window. Atleti rely on Griezmann to take the chances he gets and they are where they are today because of his deadly finishing. This season will give the 25 year old forward all the confidence he needs to lead his country’s attack at the Euros in France.

It was a surprise when El Rojiblancos finished third in the 2012/13 standings. It was widely expected that it would be a one-off and not likely to happen again. To their credit, they silenced all their doubters by winning the league itself and making it to the Champions League final. They have since finished in the top three in both the following seasons and now face Real in the repeat of the 2013/14 final. Whether or not Simeone’s men manage to exact revenge for that heartbreaking loss in 2014, Atletico and Simeone can be proud of the consistency with which they have been able to keep challenging for titles every season. Atletico de Madrid have declared to the world that the there’s a new stallion running the race for the league title in Spain and Europe, and they’re here to stay.

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