ATM XI: Werner, Thomas, Savic, Lucas, Vrsaljko, Correa, Gabi, Koke (Godín 63’), Vitolo, Diego Costa (Gameiro 63’), Fernando Torres
ALA XI: Sivera (Pacheco 63’), Alexis, Laguardia, Maripan, Dieguez, Sobrino, Pina, Wakaso (Manu Garcia 79’), Pedrarza, Munir, Guidetti (Ibai Gomez 72’)
Sunday’s lineup came as somewhat of a surprise given how Diego Simeone has chosen to deploy his players this season. Simeone went with two natural wingers in Àngel Correa and Vitolo, behind two traditional strikers. This is the sort of lineup many Atlético Madrid fans have wanted to see for some time. Against a solid team in a ground where Atlético have struggled mightily to score (one goal all-time), this seemed like a good lineup.
Fernando Torres and Diego Costa functioned very well in the first half, with both players registering shots on target from in the box (which is more than some Atlético strikers have done in whole games this season). Atleti had more possession in the first half (58 percent), and certainly did more with it, creating four good scoring chances in the first half to Alavés’ zero. Two of Atleti’s chances did come from long balls, one from Koke, the other from Stefan Savić, but anyone who watches regularly knows this is a feature of Diego Simeone’s attack, with a long ball from deep often an effective way to open up a defense.
Despite what was actually quite a decent first half, the mattress makers could not batter down the door to score. This theme continued into the second half as Atlético continued to get shots off in the Alavés box, but none hit the net. Cholo made a double sub, replacing Koke with Diego Godín for some extra defensive cover, and Kévin Gameiro to give Costa a rest ahead of Thursday. Costa was unfortunate not to score, but it’s much more important that he’s ready for the Europa League.
The best opportunity for the hosts came after an hour, when John Guidetti forced Axel Werner into a save. Atlético were then rather fortunate to earn a penalty, but Fernando Torres proceeded to have his effort saved. I say the award of a penalty was fortunate not because it wasn’t a foul — it was — but Atleti had been struggling mightily to make Alavés pay. Then Mubarak Wakaso, the player who initially gave away the first penalty, gave away another one about five minutes later, which this time Gameiro took and scored.
At long last Simeone’s men had the lead and seemed like they were going to hold onto it. This was not a beautiful match in the slightest, but Atleti had to dig deep in order to get the result, which is for the best before hosting Arsenal. And they just about did hold on, surviving a very late Correa red card for time-wasting and protesting. Very silly from the Argentine, especially in the 95th minute.
Overall this was a good day, and it’s a step toward solidifying second place in LaLiga. Even more impressive is that this win really was not lucky when it was all said and done. A missed penalty and several good shots from within the box all added together to get one goal, but the first Atleti have scored at Estadio Mendizorroza since 2006.