La Liga leaders Atletico Madrid had to rely on an heroic late penalty save from goalkeeper Jan Oblak to earn a vital 1-0 victory at home to Alaves on Sunday and preserve their advantage in the title race.
Atletico went ahead in the 54th minute when Luis Suarez headed home a Kieran Trippier cross but Diego Simeone’s side were happy to try to defend their lead and almost paid a heavy price when Stefan Savic was penalised for barging Luis Rioja.
p>Suarez’s goal was his 500th for club and country, a career that has included successful stints with Barcelona, Liverpool, Ajax, and the Uruguay national team.
Alaves were awarded a spot kick in the 86th minute but Oblak threw himself across goal to turn away Joselu’s shot with his left hand and preserve his side’s lead.
Atletico lead the standings on 66 points with 10 games left, sitting six clear of second-placed Real Madrid and seven ahead of third-placed Barcelona, who were in action against Real Sociedad later on Sunday.
“No-one really understands penalties; recently I haven’t saved any and I wasn’t very happy with that but today I managed to save one, it was so late in the game and we managed to get the three points,” said Oblak.
“You have to suffer in some games and that is part of Atletico’s DNA, but it’s games like today which make football great. We all want to try and resolve games earlier, but 1-0 still gives you three points and that’s what counts in the end.”
Diego Simeone’s side had endured a tough week, dropping two points with a goalless draw at Getafe in their last league outing to give hope to title rivals Real and Barca before a limp 2-0 defeat to Chelsea in midweek put them out of the Champions League last 16 3-0 on aggregate.
They made an anxious start and could have fallen behind early on when Alaves winger Facundo Pellistri blasted over the bar from inside the area, while Joselu also got a shot away inside Atletico’s box but Savic made a timely block.
Atletico could have had a penalty when Edgar Mendez handled the ball in an aerial challenge but the referee decided it was an accidental move after a VAR review.
The hosts finally found a way through the Alaves defence thanks to a superb cross from Trippier and excellent movement from Suarez, while Marcos Llorente almost doubled their lead when his shot was turned on to the crossbar by visiting keeper Fernando Pacheco.
His opposite number Oblak then produced a save that could prove equally decisive at either end of the table, keeping Atletico in charge of the title race while leaving Alaves in the relegation zone, two points behind 17th-placed Elche.
“We feel very hurt by the defeat as we really deserved to pick up at least a point but I’m very proud of my team mates because they gave everything,” said Pacheco.