Nikola Kalinić and Antoine Griezmann scored on either side of halftime against Deportivo Alavés, and Rodri added 87th minute polish as Atlético Madrid drew level with Barcelona atop LaLiga for the time being.
Diego Simeone’s 401st game in charge saw his side begin on the front foot with heavy early possession. Alavés, though, had the first good chance on 13 minutes — Jonathan Calleri took up a Jony cross and Stefan Savić needed to deflect it over the crossbar before Oblak could be beat. The opening 22 minutes also saw four yellow cards pulled out — two for the visitors (Calleri and Tomás Pina) and two for the hosts (Kalinić and Ángel Correa).
On 25 minutes, Thomas Lemar released Santiago Arias into space with a beautiful cross-field ball — and like he did in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday, the Colombian put in a cross that Kalinić met and deposited into the net to open his Liga Santander account. Granted, the Croatian could control the ball only enough to chest it into the net, but it counted the same nonetheless and the hosts had a rare first half goal.
Unfortunately for Atlético, Lucas Hernández could not continue past the 35-minute mark as he picked up a knee injury in yet another blow to a defense that has been simply hammered by the constant absences over the past six weeks. Still, this physical encounter rumbled on, and Atleti were able to enter the dressing room 1-0 up.
The mattress makers nearly doubled their lead on 48 minutes when freshly-fit José Giménez smacked a Lemar corner flush off the post. Alavés continued to buzz but Oblak gladly collected the balled whenever it rolled to him. The Slovene watched as Calleri glanced a header wide on 55 minutes and recovered to parry away a deflected Ibai Gómez attempt on the hour.
However, the Basques’ shot advantage continued to grow and Atlético needed an Arias block to prevent a 73rd minute equalizer from one-time canterano Borja Bastón. Atleti soon found themselves with less possession than their opponents, too — without Koke, it was that much harder for los colchoneros to recover the ball or control it once won.
But no matter — the captain saved the day eight minutes from time to seal the three points. Vitolo picked up the ball in his own half and completed a mazy run to the halfway line, where he picked out Griezmann on his run, heading for goal. Griezmann’s initial effort from close range deflected off the post — but with Fernando Pacheco out of the net, the Frenchman easily tapped in from a couple yards with his right foot and went to celebrate with the fans.
Just five minutes later, a failed clearance allowed Correa an opportunity — well-saved by Pacheco — but the rebound generated from the close-range shot gave an unmarked Rodri all the time in the world to time and guide his right-footed volley.
Next up, Atlético will complete their Champions League group stage obligation on Tuesday and attempt to win Group A at Europa League-bound Club Brugge.
Atlético XI: Oblak; Arias, Savić, Lucas (Giménez 35’), Saúl; Thomas P, Rodri, Lemar (Montero 64’), Correa; Griezmann, Kalinić (Vitolo 56’).
Goals: Kalinić 25’ Griezmann 82’ Rodri 87’
Alavés XI: Pacheco; Aguirregabiria (Sobrino 81’), Laguardia, Navarro, Duarte; Wakaso (Borja 46’), Pina, Manu; Ibai Gómez (Burgui 72’), Jony, Calleri.