Atletico Madrid 3-1 Espanyol: Morata, Koke rescue vital victory

By Ben Spratt 11 November 2019 6
Atletico Madrid 3-1 Espanyol: Morata, Koke rescue vital victory

Alvaro Morata scored for the sixth match running as Atletico Madrid returned to winning ways, beating Espanyol 3-1 at home to remain within touch with the top two in LaLiga.

Striker Morata, recalled to the Spain squad this week, has discovered his best form but Atleti had been struggling, winless in three in all competitions heading into this match.

Espanyol looked capable of furthering their misery for 45 minutes, too, leading through Sergi Darder's strike, until Morata created the leveller for Angel Correa in first-half stoppage time.

Morata, who had earlier squandered a clear opening, himself struck early in the second period, and Koke added a late third for Diego Simeone's men to move back within a point of leaders Barcelona and second-placed Real Madrid, both of whom won on Saturday.

Morata missed a huge chance to extend his outstanding scoring streak after 16 minutes, running onto Vitolo's measured pass and lifting the ball over Diego Lopez but missing the right-hand post.

Espanyol started to forge their own opportunities at the other end, however, and Darder was clinical, pouncing on a slack exchange between Thomas Partey and Koke to lash high past Jan Oblak.

Yet Morata was influential as Atleti got back on level terms on the stroke of half-time, with the forward reaching the byline and lifting a cross onto Correa's head for a simple finish.

The VAR confirmed Morata was onside in the build-up, much to Espanyol's frustration, as Naldo - earlier substituted injured having been run ragged by Vitolo - was booked on the bench for his protests.

There was a flurry of activity at the start of the second half, with Atleti denied a penalty as David Lopez and Felipe clashed, before Morata made amends for his earlier miss, holding off a recovering defender to beat Diego Lopez with a right-footed effort.

Espanyol still might have recovered a draw, but David Lopez was penalised for a foul on Koke prior to heading beyond Oblak, although the Atleti captain appeared to have tangled with a team-mate as he clutched his face.

Instead, Koke settled matters at the end of a rapid counter-attack, controlling substitute Diego Costa's cutback and sliding low into the net.


What does it mean? A timely Atletico win

Atletico have not performed as they might have hoped so far this season, but Barcelona and Real Madrid's own troubles have meant the title race is still wide open. Failure to follow those two in winning heading into the international break would have represented a significant setback, though, and the spirit shown to turn an unconvincing display into three points was admirable.

Morata involved in everything

The early miss was dismal and looked set to cost Atletico for a time, but Morata more than made amends. An assist for Correa levelled matters and the expected goal put the hosts in front. But Morata also led the line brilliantly, providing a focal point in the absence of usual nuisance Costa from the starting XI.

Saul out of position and out of sorts

Simeone hailed Renan Lodi's "extraordinary" form on Saturday, so there was some surprise when he was benched 24 hours later - particularly with midfielder Saul Niguez preferred at left-back. Saul should have been booked for a foul on Victor Gomez inside two minutes and was positionally suspect throughout, as Espanyol's best moves came down the side of this failed Atletico experiment.

Key Opta Facts

- Correa has been directly involved in four of Atletico's last five LaLiga goals (1 goal, 3 assists). 
- Between them Correa and Morata have either scored or assisted three of Atletico's last four LaLiga goals Morata (two goals, one assist) - Correa (one goal, two assists).
- Espanyol are the LaLiga team that Morata has faced the most times (eight) and has scored the most goals against (four, along with Real Sociedad and Leganes).
- Espanyol's Pablo Machin is winless in his four managerial LaLiga games against Atletico (D3 L1), all of them with Diego Simeone as an Atletico manager (two in charge of Girona, one in charge of Sevilla and one in charge of Espanyol).

What's next?

Atletico return to action after the international break with a pair of tricky trips, visiting Granada in LaLiga and then Juventus in the Champions League. Espanyol play Getafe next.

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Ben Spratt

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