Playing in that opening slot meant Atlético had the chance to go back to the top of the league had they earned all three points. They couldn’t succeed in that venture and will now sweat the other results during the week.
Diego Simeone opted to keep Álvaro Morata on the bench — with Diego Costa and Ángel Correa up front — as he tries to figure out what his best attack is. There were rests for Koke, Thomas Partey and Kieran Trippier too, with Marcos Llorente and Héctor Herrera deputising in the middle of the field. Santiago Arias stepped in at right-back.
The first half was lumbering as it so often is in the early going for Atlético. Llorente continues to look as uncomfortable as ever in midfield and was withdrawn at the break after he picked up a yellow card early for a nasty foul on Lucas Pérez. There was no penetration, very little coherence in midfield and attack and Alavés were cosy. They sat and broke with pace and purpose when offered the chance, but were happy to sit and watch Atlético play the ball around the middle for the majority of that opening half.
Partey’s introduction did open things up as he spritzed passes to the left and right in an effort to find an opening. There was more intent from Atlético, but it was more because of the expiring time than by design.
The mattress makers opened the scoring after 70 minutes when Partey drove forward, laid off to Correa before he played it to Morata, who slid low and under Fernando Pacheco. That was short-lived though as Pérez notched an authentic golazo with his left foot after he beat a couple players to both curl and slam the ball past an outstretched Jan Oblak. It was Atlético’s sixth goal conceded in 11 games this season — impressive, but they have only scored 11 and three of those came against Eibar.
In the end, it was the same situation Atlético have found themselves in time and again this season, with Simeone lamenting after the game.
“We played poorly in the first half. In the second, we did everything the opposite. We played well. If we can stick with the second and understand what we did in the first, it’s fine.”
Reading into that statement, you might hypothesise that some of those who started in the first won’t be starting for a while. It might not necessarily mean that Llorente doesn’t fit into Simeone’s plans, but there are combinations that don’t work and he is only now learning this without much room for doubt. Diego Costa is in the same boat, for example.
So it goes, Atlético dropped points to Alavés in a game they probably should have won and certainly should be winning if they want to challenge for a title. The good news is that Atlético remain close due to Barcelona and Real Madrid’s slow starts. And the other good news is that Atlético are picking up points despite playing poorly. They should — and have to — improve, but in Vitoria on Tuesday night, there was very little sign of that attacking intent for 90 minutes for which fans have been crying out.