Real Madrid extended their lead in La Liga to seven points with a 1-0 win over Athletic Club in Bilbao on Sunday afternoon.
An entertaining opening period inspired the hosts. He was able to disrupt the visitors’ high pitch, and also ensured that Real struggled to penetrate when they fell into their set shape. Iñaki Williams, meanwhile, provided a serious threat in transition but failed to make the most of several quick breaks.
Break / UGS Vision/MB Media/Getty Images There was nothing to separate the two sides.
Nevertheless, the chance of the half fell to Zinedine Zidane as Karim Benzema glanced his point-blank header wide in stoppage time after great wing play from Marco Asensio – starting his first La Liga game in 14 months – opened in style.
Chances were few and far between at the start of the second period, before Los Blancos started to get into the action after the hour mark. Their improved performance rewarded them with a penalty when Dani Garcia drove at the feet of a determined Marcelo before the Brazilian latched on to Asensio’s pass, allowing Sergio Ramos to score his tenth (!) league goal of the season. Got a chance.
Athletic offered to push forward after going behind, as Real’s formidable backline shut them down with relative ease in the 20 minutes that followed the opener to hold on for an emphatic 1-0 victory.
Starting XI: Simon (6); Capa (6), Yere (6), Martinez (9), Uri (5); Lopez (7), De Garcia (6); Minion (7), R. Garcia (7), Cordoba (5); Williams (5).
Vegetables: Nunez (7), DeMarcos (5), Vesga (7), Willibury (6), Sunset (6).
Key talking point
Zinedine Zidane’s side take a big step towards La Liga glory with win in Bilbao / UGS Vision / MB Media / Getty Images
Simply put, it was a great victory for Real Madrid, and the kind of win we’ve become accustomed to seeing since the restart.
They just get it done.
While it was VAR at Inueta, Benzema’s genius at Espanyol and Dani Carvajal’s industry against Getafe, it was Marcelo’s determination to win Real a penalty on this occasion that ultimately proved the difference between the two sides.
Athletic made it difficult for the visitors as they defended the box expertly, were compact in a 4-2-3-1 and presented a clear threat on the counter with the trickery of Iker Monin and the pace of Williams.
Zidane’s men defended as hard as ever, and although they looked bereft of ideas going forward in the first half, a more organized and spirited display in the second half ensured they got the moment they needed to win. Needed to get.
Starting XI: Courtois (6); Carvajal (6), Military (8*), Ramos (6), Marcelo (7); Casemiro (6), Modric (8), Valverde (6); Rodrigo (6), Benzema (6), Asensio (6).
Vegetables: Vazquez (6), Vinicius (6), Cruz (6), Jovic (N/A).
Raphael Varane and Ramos this term have meant that Eder Militao has struggled for minutes in his first season in Madrid, with most of his game time coming in a full-back role this term.
? Eder Militao save a day ?? pic.twitter.com/FBvQ2JPu9M
— SMFutball (@SMFutball) July 5, 2020
Eder Militau today: pic.twitter.com/T2AHHfDxsz
— PSRMFC?⚪ (@rmbigbenz) July 5, 2020
Difficult first half for Real Madrid. Not the best games ever for the midfield, Marcelo, or Rodrigo.
Eder Militau has been the man of the match so far. Immense Marco Asensio has also been impressive in attack.
– ???? Weird? (@kahmscharmy) July 5, 2020
Eder Militau is really having his best match ever.
– ?? — TonY — (@boulostony1) July 5, 2020
However, Varane’s neck injury gave Militao a chance to shine in Bilbao and the former Porto man couldn’t do much to impress Zidane.
When Athletic found their biggest transitional threat in Williams at the back, Militau was the man to clean things up, using his speed and nous to keep the jet-heeled Spaniard in one-on-one situations.
He showed his dominance in the first leg although he did not make much progress, while also showing his dominant aerial ability. All in all, it was the kind of display that would suggest Varane could be the man to side with in a post-Ramos world.
Real Madrid are back in action on Friday night as they host Deportivo Alaves in the middle of their title charge before visiting Granada next Monday.
Athletic, meanwhile, take on Sevilla in Bilbao on Thursday night before their trip to Levante next weekend.