Athletic Bilbao made the UEFA Cup final only once, 35 years ago, when Basque football was close to its glory days. Atletico Madrid, despite the little sister routine, have two European titles, winning the Europa League only two years ago. The two teams battling for European qualification in the La Liga as well will face each other on May 9 in Bucharest.
More than showing the health and state of both clubs, this was a tour de force of Spanish football, and more proof of how Barcelona and Real Madrid might be the clubs everyone around the world talks about, but there’s still good things to enjoy beyond the Camp Nou and the Santiago Bernabeu, especially during a week like this.
The depressing feeling with Barcelona is reasonable. Missing out on the league title for the first time in four years comes with the bitter pill of failing to beat Chelsea. Worse – Pep Guardiola is about to announce the end of his four year era at the club. The future, despite the immense talent at the club, suddenly looks bleak to those who love a tragic story.
Real Madrid will win the title, but it will come with a bitter taste after being stunned by Bayern Munich (which shouldn’t be that surprising to everyone) at the Bernabeu. Jose Mourinho suddenly needs to explain himself to those who expected a double, trying to defend Cristiano Ronaldo after everyone praised him this week for stepping up in the big match. He even scored twice against Bayern, but missed in the penalty shootout.
And while Athletic Bilbao are in the midst of celebrations after Fernando Llorente (who else) scoring the biggest goal for the club in recent history, his 7th this season in Europe and 29th in all competitions, there are bad news coming with the win. Marcelo Bielsa seems to be the leading candidate to inherit Pep Guardiola. Just when Bilbao were back as a consistent member of the top teams in Spain.
For Atletico, the ease in which they went through their Semi Final against Valencia was surprising, While Valencia have been having a better season in the league, they got completely romped by one of the most bi-polar teams in Europe, clinching the final qualification with a beautiful Adrian goal. In these two legs, everything came together for Atletico at their deadly front.
Like most Spanish teams, this is about attacking football. Bilbao seem like the better, more well rounded side to me, but on a given day Atletico can score three past anyone. Conceding and defending aren’t one of their strong suits, but the unpredictability of this final makes it such an endearing fixture. The final everyone wanted, Barceloa – Real Madrid, will have to put off for another time. It’s time for the ‘other’ clubs to shine on a bigger stage.