Atletico Madrid racked up a third win in the space of eight days despite missing two penalties in Sunday’s 2-0 LaLiga victory at Valencia.
Valencia goalkeeper Diego Alves broke the record for the most saved spot-kicks in LaLiga history against Leganes last week and he extended his tally to 18 by keeping out Antoine Griezmann’s first-half penalty.
That was Griezmann’s second miss from 12 yards in as many games following his failure against Bayern Munich in the Champions League on Wednesday.
The France star made amends after the break, though, keeping his cool in the penalty area after Fernando Torres had been foiled by Alves to score his 50th LaLiga goal for Atleti.
Atleti then had the chance to put daylight between the teams when Mario Suarez fouled Griezmann in the area, but incredibly Alves saved again – this time from captain Gabi.
But Kevin Gameiro scored the visitors’ second on the counter-attack deep into injury time as Atleti moved top of LaLiga, although it may prove a brief stay with Real Madrid and Barcelona still to play on Sunday.
Valencia were playing in front of new head coach Cesare Prandelli, who took a watching brief in the Mestalla stands.
The Italian would have been happy enough with Valencia’s defending during a scrappy opening, although a lightning Atleti counter-attack resulted in Saul Niguez side-footing tamely at Diego Alves from Gameiro’s centre.
Griezmann was, unsurprisingly, Atleti’s most lively attacking outlet and the forward stung the palms of Alves with a fierce 25-yard drive.
Valencia, who had offered little going forward, then enjoyed a spell of pressure and former Atleti midfielder Suarez bent a left-foot shot wide from the edge of the box.
Atleti were handed a golden opportunity to take the lead in the 43rd minute when Nani bundled into the back of Correa in the penalty area, but Alves made a brilliant save high to his right from Griezmann’s spot-kick with the Frenchman now having missed his past three Atleti penalties.
Valencia introduced Santi Mina at the break and the pacy winger almost made a swift impact when he bore down on Jan Oblak’s goal, only to be denied by Lucas Hernandez’s superb last-gasp challenge.
But it was Atleti who took the lead in the 63rd minute.
It was two substitutes who combined well, with Torres racing onto Yannick Carrasco’s throughball and, although his shot across goal was saved by Alves, Gameiro recycled the ball to Griezmann, who thumped high into the Valencia net.
More drama was to follow when Gameiro raced through one-on-one only to be foiled by Alves, but from the follow-up Suarez was penalised for a crude trip on Griezmann.
Alves once again came to Valencia’s rescue, this time diving low to his left to palm away Gabi’s poor effort.
Gabi hit the post with a low drive from distance, before Valencia should have restored parity when the unmarked Eliaquim Mangala headed Zakaria Bakkali’s pin-point cross straight at Oblak.
And Atleti made sure of the points in additional time when Gameiro raced into the area before cutting inside Aderlan Santos and drilling low past Alves.
Key Opta stats:
– Atletico have not lost in their last eight league games (W4 D3), keeping a clean sheet in six of those.
– Antoine Griezmann has scored just two of six penalties for Atletico in all competitions.
– Diego Alves has saved two penalties in a single game for the first time since the Brazilian arrived in LaLiga.
– Diego Lopez (Villarreal) was the last keeper to save two penalties in a LaLiga game (vs Sporting in Nov 2009) and Sevilla were the last team to fail with two penalties in a LaLiga game (at Rayo Vallecano in Sept 2012).
– This is the first time that Griezmann has missed a penalty and scored a goal in the same game with Atletico in all competitions.