Jan Oblak saved a late penalty to boost Atletico Madrid’s stuttering La Liga title challenge as Luis Suarez’s header proved enough for a nervy 1-0 win over Alaves on Sunday.
Oblak parried away Joselu’s 84th-minute spot-kick at the Wanda Metropolitano to spare Atletico another slip that would have given huge encouragement to Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Instead, Suarez’s 19th goal of the season extended Atletico’s lead at the top of the table to six points over Real and seven ahead of Barca, who play their game in hand at Real Sociedad later on Sunday. After managing only two wins in their last eight games in all competitions, a run that included them going out of the Champions League, Atletico have looked increasingly likely to cede the advantage to their chasing rivals.
Victory against struggling Alaves, who stay 19th, was essential to get back on track and while they nearly spurned the opportunity, Oblak’s heroics made the three points all the more satisfying. The celebrations at the final whistle revealed a team that has been under pressure in recent weeks and coach Diego Simeone will hope his goalkeeper’s save can prove a turning point ahead of the run-in.
Atletico wanted an early penalty of their own when Jose Maria Gimenez headed on to the arm of Edgar Mendez but Mendez was facing the opposite way and Alaves were spared. The rest of the half was tight, with neither side clearly superior as Marcos Llorente almost scored an own goal when meeting Victor Laguardia’s volleyed cross before Suarez fired just wide of the far post.
Suarez’s goal nine minutes into the second half came from the best move of the game. Thomas Lemar turned the ball around the corner to Llorente, who fed Kieran Trippier racing down the right, and he curled a cross in on the run to the near post, where Suarez headed in.
Atletico almost made it two shortly after, Trippier again with a brilliant cross pulled back off the line, only for Llorente’s shot to be pushed onto the crossbar by goalkeeper Fernando Pacheco.
Suarez went close in the last 10 minutes but without an Atletico second, Alaves always had a chance and they were given a golden one in the 84th minute after Stefan Savic was judged to have put an arm across Luis Rioja just inside the penalty area.
Joselu stepped up and struck it well to his left but Oblak read it right and, with his left foot still pinned to the line, sprung out and pushed the ball away. Atletico breathed a sigh of relief.