Luis Suarez scored the 500th goal of his professional career but Atletico Madrid had to rely on a late penalty save by Jan Oblak to beat Deportivo Alaves 1-0 and not have their position at LaLiga’s summit weakened further.
Diego Simeone’s men had won just two of their previous five league games before Sunday – form that has seen Real Madrid and Barcelona close the gap on them – and they looked destined to drop points yet again when Alaves were awarded a spot-kick in the closing stages.
But Oblak produced a wonderful save to deny Alaves a share of the spoils, sparking relieved celebrations among Atletico’s players and coaching staff.
The goalkeeper’s crucial stop ultimately meant Suarez’s 500th professional goal at club and international level, scored from a fine Kieran Trippier cross in the 54th minute, sealed three points to keep Atletico’s title push on track.
500 – Luis Suárez has scored his 500th goal in his profesional career:
Barcelona – 198
Ajax – 111
Liverpool – 82
Uruguay – 63
Atlético – 19
Groningen – 15
Nacional – 12
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) March 21, 2021
Atletico were convinced an early spot-kick was coming their way in the 12th minute when Jose Gimenez’s header struck the arm of Edgar Mendez, but referee Juan Martinez Munuera opted against awarding a penalty after watching a replay.
Alaves almost made the most of that let-off soon after as Pere Pons won possession and squared to Joselu on the edge of the box, only for Stefan Savic to nudge the subsequent shot just wide with a desperate lunge.
The hosts’ best opportunity fell to Suarez just before half-time, the Uruguayan gliding through a group of defenders and seeing his effort go agonisingly wide.
But he hit the mark early in the second half, meeting Trippier’s wonderful cross with a glancing header than went in off the post to reach his latest milestone.
That goal looked as though it was not going to be enough when the referee pointed to the spot in favour of Alaves after a review, Savic having caught Luis Rioja in the face with a flailing elbow.
But Oblak threw himself to his right to palm away Joselu’s penalty, providing Atletico with a huge boost in the title race.
What does it mean? Atletico breathe a sigh of relief but by no means commanding
Despite the late drama, it remains more or less as you were in LaLiga’s title race on the face of it – Atletico stay six points clear of Real Madrid, and Barcelona can go back to within four points of top spot with a win at Real Sociedad.
So, Simeone and Atletico could be in a much worse position. But, even though they did not drop points here, it was just another example of the leaders looking less than convincing.
This was is an Alaves side that lost four of their previous five games and are just two points off the foot of the table, yet they actually had more shots (nine) than Atletico (eight) here and would have been worthy of a point.
Atletico are riding their luck.
Battaglia the battler
While it was hardly a match that showcased lots of flashy football and great individual skill, Rodrigo Battaglia at the base of Alaves’ midfield was very effective. His six clearances was more than anyone else on the pitch, showing his habit of being in the right place at the right time, while only Ximo Navarro (six) could better his five tackles. It was not to be for Alaves, but Battaglia can rest assured he left no stone unturned.
Correa kept quiet
It was a disappointing showing from the Argentinian livewire. Angel Correa failed to deliver a single key pass and his general impact in the final third was minimal, with Suarez – for the most part – feeding off scraps.
Atletico can expect another thorough examination of their title credentials after the international break as they face a Sevilla side still chasing an outside chance of getting back into the title race. Alaves will host Celta Vigo.