Atlético Madrid were held to a frustrating 0-0 draw at home to Espanyol on Saturday, missing the chance to make up ground at the top of LaLiga after its rivals dropped points.
The Rojiblancos struggled to break down Quique Sánchez Flores’ side, and had goalkeeper Jan Oblak to thank for a string of fine saves to deny the visitors on the break.
After a moment’s applause for the victims of the Chapecoense air crash ahead of kick-off, the Atlético fans were quick to show their appreciation to Quique for his time at the club and the two trophies he won by showing a banner which read "your glory is eternal Quique.”
However, the Espanyol boss was in no mood to return the kind gesture, and set up his team brilliantly to frustrate the red and whites. That they did, with the referee and slippery conditions making this a very, very frustrating night.
The home side dominated possession and were playing some nice, slick football in the early stages, albeit without any real chances to show for it. Antoine Griezmann called for a penalty after seeing a shot blocked by Javi Fuego’s elbow, and Gabi saw a long range drive easily caught by Diego López, but that was about as good as it got for the home side.
Just before half-time, Gerard Moreno found himself clear on goal after a nice move involving Pablo Piatti and Leo Baptistão, but he was denied by a brilliant save from the onrushing Oblak.
Atleti stepped up the intensity after the break but still, Espanyol were causing danger on the break whilst remaining solid and responsible at the back.
Oblak had to be very alert again to save another 1-on-1, this time from Baptistão who really should’ve found the net against his former side. Thankfully the Slovene had other ideas.
Gabi then forced Diego López into a smart stop with a volleyed attempt before Griezmann sent the follow up across the face of goal, inches between the back of the net and Kévin Gameiro inside the six-yard box.
It’s been two months now since Griezmann last found the net in league play, but he really should’ve won the game late on when substitute Nico Gaitán presented him with a golden opportunity.
The Frenchman had a clear sight of goal from around 10 yards out after a cut-back wasn’t cleared, but the shot was straight at López and lacked power which gave him the chance to save. Either side though and it would’ve been 1-0.
López made an even better intervention shortly after, again from Griezmann, tipping his right-footed effort onto the crossbar, but it wouldn’t have counted after a foul in the middle from Diego Godín.
Time soon ran out for Atleti, and despite a few nice pieces of play from Ángel Correa, Espanyol dealt with everything that was thrown at them fairly comfortably and saw out the result.
After Sevilla’s loss and the draw in El Clásico earlier in the day, this was a match that Atlético really needed to win to kick start their (very feint) title aspirations, but they failed to do so.
In truth, Atleti didn’t deserve the win and if anything, this was an awful, awful performance by a tired and confused side. One really has to wonder how they managed to beat world class, Bayern Munich at the Calderón yet manage to draw with Espanyol. And Quique will be coming away from his return from the Calderón feeling that he could’ve taken all three points.
Opposite number Diego Simeone will have a lot to think about as his side’s league form continues to stumble, with a tough trip to Villarreal to come after the dead rubber against Bayern in midweek.