Barcelona v Atletico Madrid: Triumph for Atletico in La Liga before next week's Champions League final will make Madrid the capital of football

If Atletico leave the Nou Camp undefeated on Saturday they will also leave as champions of Spain

The Palacio de Cibeles, Madrid’s famous old central post office and now Town Hall, boasts that the city is not only the capital of Spain but also the capital of football. Its two leading clubs, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid, will go head-to-head for arguably the biggest prize in club football when they meet in Lisbon next weekend in the final of the Champions League and its hard to disagree. In recognition, the eye-catching building unveiled a huge banner accompanied by giant shirts of both clubs to the thousands of daily passers-by. Spain is a proud nation and Madrid a proud football city.

The capital clubs looked to be heading for a personal duel domestically too. Only a matter of weeks ago Atletico led the way in La Liga with their more illustrious neighbours not far behind and Barcelona, seemingly, heading for a a rare season without a major trophy that would have, and probably still is, set to bring about big changes in staff and playing personnel in the summer. While Barca had dominated Spanish football and world football in recent years Madrid was fast becoming the focal point of the beautiful game and not only at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Carlo Ancelotti’s side edged out their Catalan foes in the final of the Copa del Rey with Gareth Bale’s memorable solo goal deciding the first major trophy of the campaign in Valencia. Not to be outdone, Diego Simeone’s men beat Los Blaugrana over two legs in the quarter-finals of the Champions League. The tide was turning in Iberia and although Barca were not washed up, they were not themselves and Madrid’s two-pronged attack was hurting them badly.

Now, despite all the problems and despite the apparent crisis, Tata Martino’s men have their La Liga fate in their own hands going into the final winner-takes-all match of the season against Atleti at the Camp Nou on Saturday. The visitors need to avoid defeat to lift the title for the first time since 1996, when Simeone was a player at the Vicente Calderon, while their hosts need to claim all three points to retain the title on Spain’s head-to-head rule. It would be seen as harsh on an Atleti side that has impressed hugely on all fronts this season and it would be somewhat of a surprise for a Barca side very much in transition and self-admittedly having a campaign largely to forget.

So much in transition that Martino’s exit from the Camp Nou and Luis Enrique’s arrival is seemingly all-but rubber-stamped. Win the league or not, the Argentine is all-set to depart after just a year in charge and be replaced by the man who controversially left Madrid for Barcelona as a player. The 44-year-old has already helped out his probable new club by knocking Los Blancos out of the title race with a 2-0 win for his Celta Vigo side last weekend. The former Roma manager announced his departure from the Galician club on Friday and there are no prizes for guessing his next destination.

Enrique’s likely return to Catalonia is not the only interesting sub-plot in what’s set to be a thrilling final day in La Liga. Barcelona ensured news of Lionel Messi’s new contract came to fruition on Friday afternoon, just 24 hours before the big kick-off at the Camp Nou. Details of the deal were not announced by the club but reports suggest he will be the highest-paid player in the world, above Cristiano Ronaldo and teammate Neymar, who is likely to miss Saturday’s crunch clash.

Puyol will be hoping to add one more medal to his collection before retirement Puyol will be hoping to add one more medal to his collection before retirement  

The day will also be an big one for Barca stalwarts Carles Puyol and Victor Valdes. Neither will play due to injury but both will hope for the perfect send-offs with another La Liga medal before Puyol becomes a likely assistant for the incoming Luis Enrique and Valdes seemingly heads to France with big-spending Monaco. Their teammates will do everything to ensure they finish their playing days with the club on a high.

Emotions will be running high and although Martino and Simeone will ensure their players’ focus is fully on the immediate task at hand, there will be a notable absence of former friends and idols. Less than a year ago Tito Vilanova was helping Barca to league glory but less than a month ago he died after a long battle with cancer. Atleti were also in mourning this season following the death of former player and manager Luis Aragones. The ultimate tribute for both clubs would be to lift La Liga in their honour.

For years La Liga has been a two-horse race but this season it’s been different. This season Atletico, although pushing the regular two front-runners last season, have emerged as genuine and worthy title contenders. This season all three have been in the driving seat and all three have thrown that lead away. First it was Barca leading the way before Atleti nipped in and then Madrid surged back to the top as Ancelotti’s men built a head of steam. Nobody has wanted to secure the title. Last weekend none of the top three won and the week before none of them won either. Seven games have passed involving Atleti, Barca and Real and the trio haven’t managed one crucial victory between them.

Madrid may be out of the title race but they’ll have a keen eye in the goings on at the Camp Nou. Ancelotti’s men face Espanyol at the Bernabeu in a match where all eyes will be on next week’s huge trip to Lisbon, but there will be a keen interest in the Liga decider on more than one front. Their rivalry with Altetico should not be underestimated, especially after this season, but the majority of staunch Madridistas will be rooting for their city neighbours over Barcelona. Whether that’s a wise idea is a different story.

Those fans may rather see anyone win the title except their old foes from Catalonia but a victory for Los Rojiblancos would ensure a huge surge in confidence ahead of the Champions League final. Defeat for Atleti on Saturday after being so close to clinching the title for a number of weeks would sap morale and Simeone would be left with a tough job of lifting his troops for the Estádio da Luz, while Ancelotti has been left with albeit unwanted extra time to prepare his troops for their attempts to lift a tenth European Cup.

Spain’s capital city celebrated its patron saint San Isidro on Thursday and those celebrations will continue over the weekend and into Sunday night. They will be made all the sweeter, for the red and white side of the city at least, if their side can carry through on what has been a superb season by coming away from the Camp Nou undefeated and parading the league trophy around their famed Neptuno fountain in the centre of the city into the early hours of Sunday. Madrid is a city that has lived and breathed football more than usual this season and the perfect night for next week’s Champions League final, for the Spanish capital at least, would be an Atleti victory. Barca will have other ideas.

Sport
Club legend Paul Scholes is scared United could disappear into 'the wilderness'
football
News
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
science
News
Dawkins: 'There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it's statistically too improbable'
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
Dinosaurs Unleashed at the Eden Project
travel
Arts and Entertainment
music
Sport
football
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home