The transformation of Atletico Madrid from also-rans to real contenders under Diego Simeone was completed with a breathtaking Liga title. The Colchoneros smashed the dual dominance of Barcelona and Real Madrid with a brilliant season, inspired by the goals and heroics of Diego Costa.
Simeone masterminded Atletico's first league title in 18 years, while also ending a run of 10 consecutive wins for Barca or Madrid since Valencia last prevailed in 2003-4. But in truth, one of the most exciting campaigns in recent memory could have been won by any of the three front-runners and was eventually decided on the very last day of the season, in heart-stopping fashion.
Both Barcelona and Real Madrid changed managers in the summer of 2013, and went for coaches of contrasting experience. The Blaugrana brought in Gerardo Martino, who had never previously managed in Europe, to replace Tito Vilanova who was forced into leaving his position due to suffering from cancer, which would tragically take his life in 2014. Madrid, meanwhile, recruited highly experienced and highly successful coach Carlo Ancelotti. In terms of transfer acquisitions, it was one of the biggest summer windows in history. Los Blancos brought in Gareth Bale from Tottenham for a world-record fee at the time for 100m euros, whilst also adding the imperious Isco and Asier Illarramendi. Barca would flex their financial muscle, too, as they signed one of the most coveted players in the world, Neymar, from Santos. Atletico Madrid would take advantage of this too, as they brought in World Cup winner, David Villa, who was deemed surplus to requirements at the Camp Nou.
The 2013-14 term began with new faces on the bench for both Clasico rivals. Barcelona had turned to former Paraguay and Newell's Old Boys coach Martino, while after Jose Mourinho's exit, Madrid fell back on the wealth of experience – not to mention the enviable Champions League pedigree – of Carlo Ancelotti. It was Martino's men, however, who made the most impressive start to the season, racking up an incredible 13 wins in their first 14 Liga outings (including a 2-1 defeat of the Merengue) to take a tight hold on the summit.
But while Martino enjoyed a dream beginning to life at the pressure cooker of the Camp Nou, Atletico were quietly keeping pace. Costa was on fire in front of the net, while with Thibaut Courtois starring in goal and Diego Godin stopping all-comers, Simeone had constructed La Liga's most formidable defence. On February 2nd, Atletico finally unseated Barca from the summit, as the first signs that Martino's luck was running out were glimpsed in Catalunya.
From that moment on a fascinating race to the title developed. The Blaugrana briefly managed to return top, but two defeats in quick succession at the hands of Real Sociedad and Valladolid handed the initiative back to Simeone's men. A subsequent run of eight straight wins meant Atleti went into the final month of the season with one hand on the title.
I never thought for a moment the team would not do it. They always have a response. The bigger the challenge is, the more determined they are to achieve it. To become champions against Barcelona is a great feeling.Diego Simeone
Admittedly, they did not make it easy for themselves. May 2014 saw the table-toppers lose to Levante and drop a further two points at home to Malaga, setting up a final-day decider with Barcelona at the Camp Nou. A win for the hosts would see them retain La Liga for another season, while a draw or defeat would hand the crown to the Colchoneros.
For almost an hour it appeared that fate would smile on the Catalans. Alexis Sanchez fired them into the lead, temporarily sending the title back to Camp Nou. But the inspirational Godin hit back with his fourth goal of the season to tie up the game, and Atletico survived a late onslaught to finally wrap up La Liga and end almost two decades of hurt.
PLAYER OF THE SEASON
While both Lionel Messi and Costa pushed him to the limit, Real Madrid's talisman won the vote as La Liga's standout player after bagging 31 goals over the course of the season. Ronaldo saved his best performances for the Champions League, but he was still a consistent force for his side as they kept touch with Atletico and Barca throughout.
MANAGER OF THE SEASON
In his third season at the helm at Vicente Calderon the Argentine confirmed his status as a Colchonero legend. Simeone's greatest achievement was moulding a truly unbeatable team unit, which conceded a paltry 26 goals and lost just four times over the course of an amazing season.
CRISTIANO RONALDO - 31 GOALS
Even though Ronaldo saved his best for the Champions League this season, he smashed home 31 goals in the Spanish Primera Division.
TEAM OF THE SEASON
GOAL OF THE SEASON
Bartlomiej Pawlowski pulls off a quite outrageous piece of skill as, in the one motion, he controls with one foot, turns sharply, and volleys into the corner with the other foot - all without the ball touching the ground.
MOST EXPENSIVE TRANSFER
Tottenham to Real Madrid
KEY MOMENT OF THE SEASON
Godin's joy as he netted the most important goal of his career, a classic Atletico set-piece move that earned them the title.