Madrid, Mar 21 (efe-epa).- Luis Suarez notched his 500th career goal for Atletico Madrid’s lone tally in its Sunday match with Alaves, a win that was secured when goaltender Jan Oblak saved a penalty kick just five minutes before time, thus keeping Diego Simeone’s boys leading the La Liga table albeit amid doubts about their ability to remain there down the stretch.
The match was played at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium before empty stands due to coronavirus gathering restrictions.
Atletico started the contest a little jumpy, but Alaves’s 19-year-old Ioanee Facundo Pellestri shot one over the top of the net, so it wasn’t all nervousness at one end of the pitch.
Although Alaves has been defeated in four of its last five matches, they achieved a certain rhythm in the early going as Atletico tried fruitlessly to find its own niche. Alaves sent in several shots on goal that didn’t make it, thanks to Oblak’s work and, on one occasion, Savic’s rush at the shooter.
Then, it was Savic himself who got into scoring position, sending a shot on goal that an almost-unready Fernando Pacheco was only just able to fingertip away.
Although Atletico got two lateral free kicks, they couldn’t capitalize and they lacked some power with Joao Felix out on suspension.
Simeone’s squad couldn’t get any good chances and seemed to be hanging back a good bit, and Oblak was working hard to save the attempts by the hungry visitors. Suarez, meanwhile, was urging his men to get closer in to increase pressure on Alaves but the contest was scoreless at the break.
Finally, in the 54th minute, it was an almost-offside Kieran Trippier who arrowed the ball in from the right to Suarez, who headed it past Pacheco for the score, his 19th tally of the season.
Suarez has now scored in eight of the squad’s last 12 winning encounters.
And Oblak cemented the win in the 84th minute when Joselu got a penalty kick that the Atletico goaltender saved.
Meanwhile, Barcelona crushed a hapless Real Sociedad 6-1 on the road in San Sebastian, decisively keeping itself in the running for the La Liga title, just four points in back of Atletico Madrid.
It was Leo Messi, as always, who led the Catalan squad to victory with two goals and an assist, and with the side confidently dominating the match right from the start, with never-ending passing that kept the locals running after the ball the entire 90 minutes.
Antoine Griezmann had gotten Barca on the board first in the 37th minute and then Messi set up Sergino Dest for the latter’s first goal of the night seven minutes later.
It was Dest again in the 53rd minute and then Messi went in to make it 4-0 as Barcelona continued to make a feast of the home team.
Ousmane Dembele notched the fifth tally for Barcelona in the 71st minute and then – finally – it was the turn of Real Sociedad’s Ander Barrenetxea who knocked down a face-saving goal for the home squad in the 77th minute.
It was Messi scoring his second of the night just two minutes before regulation time that told the final tale in the one-sided match, which was his 768th game with Barca, allowing him to surpass Xavi as the player with the most matches for the club.