Atlético Madrid survived wave after wave of Deportivo Alavés pressure and escaped Estadio Mendizorrotza with a 0-0 draw on Saturday afternoon.
The hosts controlled the game for nearly the entire 90 minutes and outshot Atlético 19-8. However, Mauricio Pellegrino’s men were unable to find the breakthrough due to imprecise finishing and some spectacular goalkeeping from Miguel Ángel Moyá. Atleti’s big chance came about 15 minutes from time, but Nico Gaitán unwisely tried to round Fernando Pacheco and could not score.
Alavés came out flying almost immediately after kickoff and put Atlético under immense pressure in possession. The first big chance came after seven minutes, when Šime Vrsaljko left Ibai Gómez alone at the back post and Moyá had to make an athletic save. Marcos Llorente and Víctor Camarasa chances soon followed, but José Giménez made an excellent clearance to prevent the latter from scoring.
Meanwhile, all was quiet on the attacking front, as the Gaitán-Koke-Saúl-Carrasco midfield was too open and could not consistently circulate the ball. Atlético’s poor circulation and ball retention left Carrasco and Kévin Gameiro isolated as Alavés grew stronger. Center back Víctor Laguardia nearly hit an improvised finish from a free kick, but saw his effort flash off the crossbar.
Diego Simeone was forced into his first change five minutes before the hour, as Giménez left the pitch in tears following what the club would later confirm as a thigh problem. Stefan Savić entered, and Simeone soon threw on Ángel Correa and Fernando Torres in place of Gameiro and Carrasco (the latter kicked a water bottle on disgust as he took his seat on the bench).
Alavés continued to push, with on-loan left back Theo Hernández starring for the hosts. But the next great chance would fall for Atlético. Gaitán latched onto a Savić long ball and raced in 1v1 with Pacheco. The Argentine should have scored, but decided to round the keeper instead, and he was stopped easily.
Fortunately for Atleti, Moyá had one huge save left in him, as he narrowly kept out Christian Santos in the dying minutes. The fireworks would not end there, though, as Godín and Deyverson spat on each other after Alavés won a free kick deep into added time, an incident the league offices could take another look at.
In short: Atlético were not good, which is hardly a new phenomenon for the team in league play (just five wins since mid-October). Alavés pounded los colchoneros and were unlucky not to emerge victorious. This result more or less confirmed that the best-case scenario for Atleti this season is fourth place; a Barcelona win at Betis tomorrow afternoon will put Simeone’s men eight points adrift of automatic Champions League qualification. If Real Sociedad lose at Real Madrid on Sunday night, Atleti will move into fourth ahead of Leganés’ visit next Saturday.
Before that, however, there is the little matter of the Copa del Rey semifinal at the Calderón against Barcelona on Wednesday.