Football Features

“One of the finest midfielders in La Liga” – Five things learned as Alaves hold Atletico Madrid

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 20:22, 29 October 2019

In a tightly contested night of football, Atlético Madrid and Alavés played out a 1-1 draw at Estadio de Mendizorroza.

The match was a brutal defensive stalemate for a good hour but Diego Simeone’s substitutions brought the game to life. Two great goals illuminated the last 20 minutes, but what did we learn?

1. The Two Thomases

It’s not an exaggeration to say the first-half of Alavés vs. Atleti was, from an attacking perspective, one of the worst halves of football this seasom. Possibly ever. There were more yellow cards than shots on target and there were only two yellow cards. Thomas Lemar was one of the main culprits for this as he utterly failed to create anything.

Then at half-time Thomas Partey came on, and instantly Atleti looked more like Atleti. The Ghanaian carries with him an authority and assurance that almost no other midfielder in red and white does and the game improved for his presence. Unfortunately for Atleti, the much more expensive Thomas Lemar failed to lift his level to match his namesake.

Thankfully for Atleti it didn’t matter as Thomas Partey was so supreme and Diego Simeone’s other substitutions were just as sharp that Los Rojiblancos powered their way to victory. There was one moment with about 20 minutes left where The Good Thomas danced through about three Alaves defenders in about three square metres of space and almost set-up Atleti’s second goal. It was a phenomenal moment where Thomas Partey showed how he is on a level all on his own; one of the finest midfielders in La Liga this season.

2. Lucas Perez is flying high

Lucas Perez simply cannot be stopped. The former-Arsenal striker came into the game having scored four goals in his last four games. He had become a constant for Alaves, their guiding light, their north star. Atleti’s response to this was unsurprisingly to kick Perez to pieces.

Lucas won three fouls against Atleti, a team-high, but there were many fouls that weren’t even called. He was definitely being brutalised and it clearly was effecting him. But a great goalscorer in good form cannot be stopped. And in the second half when Perez picked up the ball just outside the Atleti box he sent Saul for a spin, ran parallel to the goal and just thundered a curling beauty into the top corner.

That’s five goals in five games, a supreme run of form that, should it continue, will lift Alavés out of trouble and up the table.

3. Granada will be confident of keeping pace (for now)

Granada came into this gameweek sitting top of La Liga. The promoted side have been exceptional this season and although their place at the head of the table was thanks to the postponement of El Clásico (where either side winning would have seen them go top) they have already beaten Barcelona at home so you can’t argue with their position.

Obviously Atleti pulled level with them after the draw tonight – meaning that Granada can further extend their lead over Diego Simeone’s men by beating Getafe on Thursday evening (and even maintain a one point lead over Barcelona, should the Blaugrana win).

Yes, Atleti looked potent once Alvaro Morata, Koke and Thomas Partey came on – but they were pitiful without them – and couldn’t even hold the lead either. There is a serious lack of creativity in this Atlético side and Granada will, as things currently stand, have no doubt they can keep pace with Atleti in the title race.

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4. Koke again proves his worth

Koke had a good game at the weekend as Atleti beat Athletic Club. It was a much-needed good performance for a player whose quality had been repeatedly questioned, he was even applauded off. He started tonight’s game on the bench as he and a few other first-teamers were rested. The team was poor without him, but what he could only have dreamed of is how much better they got with him.

Almost immediately after he was introduced, Koke played an enormous part in Atleti’s goal. Alvaro Morata chested down Jan Oblak’s long goal kick and the ball fell to Koke. the Spaniard showed no hesitation and instantly controlled the ball and moved it forward perfectly into Morata’s advancing path.

The striker then exchanged passes with Angel Correa before scoring. Obviously excellent from Morata and Angel Correa, and they will receive the lion’s share of the credit, but without Koke’s quick-thinking and flawless technique it wouldn’t have been possible. An easily forgettable pass but the kind that changes games.

5. Alavés are a serious side at home

Alavés are not a good side on the road, having lost all four of their road trips this season. However at the Mendizorroza they are formidable. They came into this game having won three of their five home games this season, drawing once and losing one. And in all those games they have conceded just one goal, Joan Jordan’s 37th minute winner for Sevilla.

Alright, Alvaro Morata doubled that goals conceded stat – and probably should have scored a second but for a great save from Fernando Pacheco – but beyond those two chances it wasn’t like Atleti were beating the door down and Alavés did the impossible and scored on Atleti when Diego Simeone’s men were leading. They have serious heart, drive and skill.

You’ll kill them when they come to your place, but when a trip to Mendizirroza is on the cards you better get ready for a rough night.