Ah, Bilbao… I, unfortunately, did not get to spend any time there outside of the airport. Lozil did, however, and I’m relatively certain she’s very willing to return.
We were still without James, Danilo, The Pony, and GareBear. I miss them terribly.
Athletic Bilbao: Gork Iraizoz; Oscar de Marcos, Aymeric Laporte, Xabi Etxeita, Mikel Balenziaga; Benat Etxebarria, Mikel San Jose, Raul Garcia; Markel Susaeta, Aritz Aduriz, Sabin Merino
Real Madrid: Keylor Navas; Dani Carvajal, Raphael Varane, Pepe, Marcelo; Luka Modric, Toni Kroos, Mateo Kovacic; Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, Isco
We took the kick off to get things under way at San Mames.
It was Bilbao with the first chance of the game. In the 3rd minute Aduriz was almost in but our Baby Varane was there with a glorious challenge.
We earned a corner in the 7th minute, and again The Baby was the one making the play. But his header was wide.
In the 12th minute, Benz had nice control of a ball over the top from Ronaldo but Iraizoz made an easy save on his long distance shot.
In the 14th minute, Cristiano headed a ball back to where Benz was waiting. Benz tried a very acrobatic overhead kick but it was very high. We’ve seen him make them. And you can’t make the incredible happen if you don’t attempt the incredible, right?
I was getting a little worried. We were looking a bit disorganized again. Much like we had in the first couple of matches. I thought we’d worked out those kinks but now we have all the injuries. Perhaps that’s the issue?
Modric earned a freekick in the 18th minute when Benat came in from behind. Cris took the freekick (duh) but it was wide.
Benz scored very shortly when San Jose played the short goal kick back to Iraizoz and Benz got to it first. It was such a short turn around that BeIN were still showing the replay of Cris’ freekick!
It was such a bad play by San Jose. A part of me felt so horrible but I can’t be upset when we score either. The player in me knows the feeling but then the fan in me is sometimes ruthless. I’m so torn!
Iraizoz made a great save against a Ronaldo volley in the 22nd minute. Then Marcelo played a ball across that Benzema was SO close to getting on the end of!
In the 25th minute Susaeta brought his boot up as Marcelo brought his head down for the ball. We were given the freekick.
Kovacic had a great shot on goal in the 38th minute but it was tipped over Iraizoz. Then the corner came in to Benz but his header was over the net.
Bilbao were given a freekick in the 40th minute after Raul Garcia went down under a challenge from Cris. Lucky for us, our striker comes back to defend and he headed it away. Then as Bilbao played the ball back in (with four of their players off side) Navas managed to push it away and Varane cleaned up.
Was it just me or was The Baby on fire?!
Kovacic was denied again in the 42nd minute. His very close range shot was given the reaction save treatment by Iraizoz. The entire passing sequence between Ronaldo, Kovacic, Benzema leading up to it was quite nice as well.
The half ended Athletic Bilbao 0-1 Real Madrid but I don’t think I’m the only one that felt there should have been more goals. For both sides!
We also learned that Barcelona had fallen to Celta de Vigo 4-1. Casemiro and Vazquez didn’t hide their amusement.
As usual there were no changes by either Bilbao or Madrid to start the second half.
Bilbao started the half really well and they forced a save from Keylor in the 52nd minute. Aduriz absolutely hammered his shot to the bottom corner.
Bilbao were given a freekick in the 52nd minute when Modric went for a ball against De Marcos. Then Cris earned a yellow for dissent. I think he rightfully protested the decision but at the same time I hate when we earn cards for dissent.
The freekick came to nothing, thankfully.
I feel like this is a good time to say that Dani was having a very good match. I think sometimes I don’t give Dani enough credit.
Pepe was booked in the 57th minute when he collided with. It’s clear to me that Garcia hasn’t washed off his Atletico attitude yet. It was a terribly taken freekick, lucky for us.
Bilbao wanted a penalty in the 63rd minute, and I can see how they could have gotten it. We’ve definitely had less called a handball. Good for us the ref said Pepe didn’t block it with his hand. The way Spanish refs call handball drives me insane, if you didn’t figure that out.
We earned a freekick in the 63rd minute when Benat brought Isco down unnecessarily. He also earned a yellow for his challenge.
The next yellow went to De Marcos in the 67th minute after a really bad tackle on Lucky Luka.
But in the same minute, Bilbao scored when Susaeta put in a good cross to Sabin who was all alone coming into the back post. He headed it in across Navas for Bilbao’s goal.
The challenges were coming in late and furious. It was starting to look more like we were playing against Atleti.
But we got our second goal in the 70th minute! Isco played the ball in after some very good work by Modric to find him. And Benz got on the end of it to touch it in from close range!
Both teams made their first subs in the 72nd minute. Isco was replaced by Jese while, for Bilbao, Mikel Rico replaced San Jose.
Benz nearly had a hat trick right after the sub but he pulled his shot too far to the left. You could see how frustrated with himself he was.
Keylor was forced into another good save in the 75th minute off a shot from Aduriz.
In the 78th minute Kroos was given a yellow for a handball (remember I said I hate the way that Spanish refs handle handballs). It did elicit what was perhaps my favorite reaction of the match, however.
When the freekick was taken, Carvajal caught a bit of a boot to the head. Luckily he was okay.
In the 81st minute it was time for Casemiro to come in for Big Benz, who looked mighty fine as he jogged off the pitch in all his wet and see through shirt glory.
Ibai Gomez was given a yellow in the 81st minute for hauling Carvajal to the ground.
Cris had another chance in the 84th minute. He did so well to beat the defenders but then his shot was just wide! Such a frustrating night for him!
Bilbao then replaced Benat with Kike Sola.
In the 85th minute, Kovacic and Garcia came knee-to-knee and for a moment I thought it was going to be very bad. But our midfielder got back to his feet and managed to walk it off.
Bilbao continued giving us a hard time but Pepe and Varane were so strong in the back. Then Keylor made another great save to tip over a header from Garcia. He is so good. I’m so glad we got to keep him.
Kovacic was subbed in the 89th minute, as a precaution. It was Lucas Vazquez that took his place.
Garcia was finally booked in the 90th minute for tugging at Jese.
And when the whistle blew, we’d kept ourselves on top. Athletic Bilbao 1-2 Real Madrid.
Benitez: “We showed quality in the first half and character in the second”
by Alberto Navarro (Bilbao)“The win gives us confidence and strengthens the winning mentality this team need to have”, he added.
Rafa Benítez expressed his satisfaction with the work put in by his players to come away from San Mamés with an important victory: “I’m happy, because we won and the team showed two clear sides to their game. A first half with possession, goal chances and control of the ball. And a second half with hard work, character and the ability to battle through the tough moments. We showed quality in the first half and character in the second”.
“To begin with we showed a lot of control in possession. Later we made adjustments with Isco moving more into central midfield, and finished up with Casemiro in that area. All these things, which seem like odd little things, mean that this team is starting to get a firm handle on tactical concepts. When the team wins, I feel that almost everything that we’ve done has been positive”.
“It was a game in which we showed things that we hadn’t shown up to now. We hadn’t needed to show this character, and we also brought the ball out crisply. It strengthens the winning mentality that this team need to have. Real Madrid have always been a team about determination and character. We fought hard and stood up to be counted”.
“He’s a fantastic player. He’s a a number nine with a difference; he’s not a penalty-box striker. He offers a lot of movement, he has quality and he has a really good understanding with Cristiano Ronaldo. The movement and the quality that he brings cause problems for the opposition defence and create spaces for his team-mates”.
“I’ve set him the target of scoring 25 goals, and we’ve talked about assists too. He’s going well. What’s important is that he scores and that the team win. Everyone worked hard and contributed. A team that work hard for each other end up winning”.
What the victory brings
“Confidence in ourselves. We’ve passed the test that everyone was talking about with a pretty high mark. We lacked precision in the final pass or the final shot on goal. Finishing up at San Mamés with 20 shots shows that we stuck to our task throughout the game and played well”.
“He did well. I know what he’s capable of because I watched him in Italy, and he’s a player with quality and dynamism. We just needed to interpret our possession of the ball better. We had control for a number of periods in the game”.
Escaping Athletic’s pressing
“I was watching last season’s game with my backroom team, and as they put pressure on you high up the pitch we opted for a varied midfield. That has its drawbacks, and that’s why we had to make adjustments in the second half. With everything that we showed, if we had had a little more cutting edge the game would have been more comfortable”.
“He did well. The move that brought their goal was a mistake by us, and what’s important is that we won”.
“We had analysed that, but sometimes a moment of carelessness allows your opponent to get an advantage. We had to defend ourselves with possession of the ball, and that’s what we did in the first half”.
“I didn’t have any thoughts about it at all; I didn’t find out about it until our game ended”.“It was a tough match but in the end we earned the three points, which was the most important thing”, noted Kovacic.
Luka Modric started in Real Madrid’s win in San Mamés. The Croatian midfielder expressed his satisfaction with the work of the team: “They are three very important points. We’re very happy, we need to continue on this path. We showed a lot of quality and character throughout the match, especially during the second half and when we were faced with difficult moments”.
“Athletic were great opponents but we had a lot of chances on goal, in particular during the first half. We know how hard it is to win here, we lost this fixture last year and we’re delighted with how we played tonight. This win will fill us with confidence for the upcoming matches. Next up we face Málaga, following that we’re in the Champions League again, and then we take on Atlético”.
“I know him really well and he’s showing us everything he is capable of doing. He has a lot of talent and is a player who will continue growing bit by bit. He’s very happy, he put in a great performance”.
“At half time we were made aware that they were losing 2-0 and that surprised us. But we don’t need to concern ourselves with other teams’ results”.
“We only need to focus on our own games, on fighting and winning. We’re dependent on ourselves and as long as we continue playing like we did tonight we’ll be fine”.
“He’s a great player. He’s one of the best strikers in the world and we’re fortunate enough to have him on our team”.
“Records are not what matter but rather the fact that he had a great performance and made some incredible saves”.
Kovacic: “We played very well in the first half”
“It was a very tough match but in the end we got what we came here for, a win and three points. We played very well in the first half, not so well in the second, and Athletic made things extremely difficult for us through the pressure their defenders put on us. I’d like to thank Rafa Benítez for the trust he placed in me; I really enjoyed playing tonight’s match. I’m very happy”.
Benzema’s great form at present
“Benzema is incredible, he helps the team out a lot with his goals, just as Cristiano Ronaldo does, and I’m delighted that he’s enjoying this hot streak in front of goal”.
Accumulation of games
“Playing a game every three days is difficult but we have a deep enough squad to cope with the demands”.“Winning here is tough, but we deserved it”, said Carvajal.
Raphael Varane played the full 90 minutes in Wednesday’s win over Athletic Club, and the central defender offered his thoughts on the victory: “It was a tough match and we had to run hard, but we’re happy because the team worked really well. We had to dig in, but we stuck together as a team. Playing here is always tough, because Athletic play with a lot of intensity, but we responded and held firm, and came away with a really positive result”.
“We’re working really hard, we’re focused and well organised. The main thing is to keep this up. La Liga isn’t easy and there are a lot of good teams, and the consistency that we’re showing is important”.
“He’s in very good form and he always scores goals. He’s made a really good start to the season and I hope that he keeps it up”.
Dani Carvajal: “Taking top spot is an added source of motivation”
“Winning here is really tough and we stood up to be counted. We deserved the win and we’ll take real heart from it. All in all, the first half was a more complete performance and in the second half we had to dig in and work together. Being able to dig in when called upon is an essential quality of every winning team, and today we stood up to be counted”.
La Liga Leaders
“It’s always good to be top of the table, but we have to carry on and keep on winning games to be champions come May. We knew about Barcelona’s half-time score and that it was a golden opportunity to take top spot. It’s an added source of motivation to get out there and play”.
“I try to repay the coach’s confidence in me by playing well. I hope that Danilo recovers soon and that when he’s back we make it hard for Benítez, and that it’s the team that benefits the most. For me, this year is the most important and the year with the most challenges in my career, with stiff competition at club and international level, and with the Euros in the summer. It’s a year to stand up and be counted”.
Now that I’ve caught up(ish). I’ll get the match post for Malaga posted! Hopefully not 3 days late!