Real Madrid Defeats Athletic Bilbao

Real Madrid Defeats Athletic Bilbao  -
MADRID, SPAIN – OCTOBER 23: The players of Real Madrid celebrate after scoring during the La Liga match between Real Madrid CF and Athletic Club at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on October 23, 2016 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Helios de la Rubia/Real Madrid via Getty Images)

In an exciting match at the Santiago Bernabeu, Real Madrid defeated Athletic Bilbao 2-1 to go to the top of La Liga.

Match Review: Real Madrid vs. Athletic Bilbao

First Half

Athletic Bilbao started off positively and to great effect. The first five minutes saw Bilbao the more threatening, but due to a slip from suspended Mikel Balenziaga’s replacement Erik Sabborit, Isco was able to set Karim Benzema up on a platter after a long diagonal ball from Marcelo. Bezema’s tidy finish under Athletic keeper Gorka Iraizoz made the score 1-0 for the home team in the seventh minute. This made Ernesto Valverde’s game plan very difficult to continue on with, as Valverde wanted his men to stay compact at the back and push on the counterattack when the time came.

This did not make the Basque side shy away. There was plenty of back and forth between both teams, as Gareth Bale missed a header off a scintillating cross from Marcelo. Moments later, Athletic right back Leuke sent in a great cross and the ball made its way to Sabin Merino, who seemed surprised and missed horribly.

Los Blancos stepped their foot off the gas pedal, as they did not create many more chances for large parts of the match. Then Merino made up for his early glaring miss after Javier Eraso was able to set him up for the equaliser. Eraso seemed to have missed an opportunity to have a shot on goal off a great cutback from Leuke with a poor first touch; but after a scramble for the ball was able to beat Pepe and set up Merino who slid the ball under Keylor Navas at the 27th minute.

The last chance of the first half fell to none other than Cristiano Ronaldo in the 44th minute off a wonderfully weighted through-ball from midfielder Toni Kroos. However, the Portugese superstar was unable to break his scoring drought at home after Iraizoz stuffed his attempt to slide the ball under his legs.

The first half was an exciting game for the neutral point of view, as Athletic was able to frustrate Madrid with a stifling defence and quick counter-attacks.

Second Half

Athletic Bilbao deployed a defensive backline for early parts of the second half, keeping Madrid mostly at bay. However, the likes of Marcelo, Kroos, and Ronaldo carved out chance after chance in the attack.

Despite this, it was Inaki Williams with the best chances of the early parts of the second half. After a mistake by Pepe allowing the ball to run through, the 22-year-old Spaniard sent a one-on-one opportunity into the stands in the 52nd minute.

Zinedine Zidane’s men had lovely passing movements side to side on the pitch, often using a diagonal cross-field pass to find the open man. This had Athletic chasing shadows for what seemed like most of the half. Bilbao’s method of staying compact made Madrid switch the ball so frequently, often making chances which Ronaldo could not put away. It seemed like both clubs were going to share the spoils in this one.

After coming so frustratingly close time and time again, Alvaro Morata turned in his own rebound off a Bale cross from the left. On his 24th birthday, Morata was delighted to pick up a birthday gift off a Iraizoz save.

This poacher’s mentality is what Morata does best, and his second goal of the season surely validates that he is not only more than capable of coming off the bench but should be starting more matches.

It was moments later that Athletic nearly equalised, as another one-on-one chance for Williams was beautifully saved. This came after a terrible back pass from Raphael Varanae after Ander Itturaspe’s long through-ball.

Keylor Navas saved his side the three points, as Real Madrid are now on top of the table after nine games. This match may have been a different story if Athletic had their star striker Aritz Adruiz in action.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s woeful finishing was the story in this exciting game, as his last-minute opportunity to put his side up 3-1 was saved when he had the opportunity to set up either Morata or Kroos to the left for an easy tap-in. This selfishness from Ronaldo is acceptable when he’s scoring, but when he hasn’t scored a goal at the Bernabeu in a month then he will surely need to clean up his act.

Match Ratings:

Navas (8), Dani Carvajal (6), Pepe (6), Varane (8), Marcelo (9) (Man of the Match), Kroos (8), Kovacic (6), Isco (7) (Lucas Vasquez – 6) Bale (7), Benzema (6) (Morata – 8), Ronaldo (6)

Iraizoz (7), Leuke (8), Extetia (6), Laporte (8), Sabborit (5) (Iker Munian – 6), Mikel Rico (6), Eraso (7), Raul Garcia (6) (Itturaspe – 6), Sabin Merino (7) (Markel Susaeta – 6), Inaki Williams (7)