There goes Benitez’s defensive record and Real Madrid have finally conceded a goal this season.
Real Madrid 1-2 against Bilbao and this is indeed the first time Real Madrid have beaten Athletic Bilbao at their new home ground.
For those still wondering, no Ronaldo did not score. It was Benzema’s two striker finishes that put Real Madrid above Barcelona in the La Liga table by one point. Barcelona lost their game away to Celta Vigo 4-1. But who cares about what happens to Barcelona really?
Let’s talk defense. Real Madrid’s defense was veritably broken through by Athletic Bilbao but on the positive side, the pressure is off now. If there was any that is.
Real Madrid can now look forward to every match without having to worry about some record that will be lost in the history books.
Looking at individual performances:
Navas had a tough game against Bilbao. Probably the first pressure game for him in a Real Madrid shirt as a number 1. Last season he was just trying to survive but right now, Navas knows that he has to impress Real Madrid management in order to be at the club as a number 1 next season.
Athletic Bilbao play a very aggressive game and it was evident from the first few minutes that they wouldn’t make it a walk in the park for Real Madrid.
Navas was fouled with a shirt pull as he was trying to get to the ball delivered from a corner. The referee correctly called it a infringement.
Bilbao were trying to unsettle Navas but he stood firm in the early exchanges and read some crosses really well to cut out Bilbao attackers from being productive inside the Real Madrid penalty area.
One save was pretty stunning from Navas when he saved a header from Aduriz and Aduriz was livid with himself as he had missed a simply header to a looping long ball from three yards out.
It’s true that he didn’t put it wide enough but nevertheless, it was a fantastic reflex save from Navas.
Aduriz would find Navas saving his shots a couple of times more in the second half as well. Early on in the second half Navas saved a good stinging shot from Aduriz, who looked frustrated.
Navas would go on to torment Aduriz even more when later in the second half he made another terrific save from a low Aduriz volley shot after some very poor defending from Real Madrid as the ball bounced up inside the penalty area with no one to challenge for it.
Navas had to make another couple of good saves before the night was over to make sure Real Madrid kept their lead intact when he saved a cheeky Raul Garcia header just from the edge of the area and tipped it away.
I don’t know about you guys, but I despise this guy Raul Garcia. He is such a cheat on the field, I would rather have Neymar score a bicycle goal against Real Madrid than concede a goal from Raul Garcia.
The game was played with great intensity all night and Carvajal thrived in it. He was full of running and never let up, always tormenting the backline of Athletic Bilbao.
Carvajal attacked really well on the wings especially early on in the game and made some good sharp passes to other teammates.
He along with Marcelo are probably the best attacking full backs in Europe at the moment.
Carvajal also showed great pace and through ball cutting abilities against Athletic Bilbao who looked bewildered by Carvajal’s pace and anticipation.
He is in such good form at the moment that whenever he ran with the ball he made some good inroads into Bilbao’s defensive line and that too with speed. He was too hot to handle last night.
His penetrating runs were very effective in putting Athletic Bilbao on the back foot.
Carvajal was so involved in almost all events last night that it was hard to know what he had for drinks before the game. He was really that good against Bilbao.
The only thing that is lacking in his game now is good consistent crossing delivery. His crosses aren’t bad by any measure but they could be better. Let’s have Beckham as the benchmark for crosses from the wings.
Apart from that, every aspect of his game is at an acceptable level. Against Bilbao he provided good cover to the center backs and midfielders who were racing back to defend.
In the second half, Carvajal again showcased his average long ball ability and his way above average dribbling ability. Every match, Carvajal is able to go past the first player who is coming to close him down and Athletic Bilbao was no different (Carvajal was brought down though when he got past his man at the back). That is a very rare ability for a right back I have to say.
Carvajal did get a boot to the face for his effort to stop Raul Garcia’s (hate this guy) would-be overhead kick from inside the penalty area of Real Madrid.
His stamina and fitness levels were on full display as Carvajal made a good sliding tackle on the 92nd minute mark to stop Bilbao from putting another cross in.
His ability to push into attack and to dribble past players makes Carvajal a very effective player for Real Madrid and against Bilbao he was no different.
He is probably amongst the top four defenders in the world right now as he was a reason why the back four of Real Madrid looked very comfortable on the ball last night against an aggressive Athletic Bilbao.
Early on in the game a through ball put an Athletic attacker in a good position to score a goal but Varane came out of nowhere (after initially being caught out) to make a sliding challenge and blocked the attacker before he could take a shot.
The ball went out for a throw in. You might ask why did I just mention that the ball went out for a throw? It’s because all top defenders don’t just want to block a shot from an attacker but also to avoid conceding a corner or possession to another opponent’s player. Getting a throw in from a tackle is the perfect end to tackle. And Varane did make the perfect tackle.
Varane was just outstanding from the start. His pace and tackle in the first time of asking was tremendous. With that initial challenge of Athletic attacker, there is no doubt in my mind that Varane is the quickest defender over a 10 yard space in Europe at the moment.
His man marking ability was superb in the first half but his long balls do need some work.
On the other end of the pitch, Varane was able to connect with a header from a corner but the header flew over the post.
Varane blocked another good low cross into the box, the only bad part was that his clearance was too low which could have given the ball back to Athletic Bilbao.
The best moment of the match for Varane (in my perspective) was when, he jumped all over Raul Garcia in a challenge for an air ball. The foul was called even though the gist of the matter was that Varane simply jumped higher than Raul Garcia.
In the second half Varane almost transformed himself into a box to box midfielder when, first, he intercepted a ground pass outside Real Madrid’s penalty area and seeing the space, decided to run with the ball. His pace was majestic as he ran into the heart of Bilbao’s defense and seemed to just slide off the surface.
He did stop and made a pass to Isco before losing the possession of the ball.
The last thirty minutes were very intense as Bilbao went for an equaliser and then for a winning goal but Varane remained firmed. Stopped some important crosses with some strong headers and controlled the space around the penalty area like a seasoned veteran.
Varane’s man marking ability allowed him to get the all important first foot to most balls that were played to Athletic attackers, from the midfield area.
Had a solid night. Was probably the worst of the four defenders in Real Madrid’s backline. Maybe it was because of his form or may be the other three are just better (and younger) players than him.
Varane took the lead for organizing the defense from Pepe but that didn’t stop Pepe from playing his game.
He was at it from the start and committed a foul within the opening 20 minutes of the game. Made some strong interceptions and then averaged that with one or two bad long balls.
The goal scored against Real Madrid was Pepe’s fault. let there be no doubt about that. He tried to lunge into a fifty fifty ball and lost out. Was caught way out of position (along with Marcelo as usual is the case for him) and was completely cut out from the game.
As a result, Carvajal was left alone in the penalty area against two attackers and he couldn’t do anything as he was outnumbered. Navas had no protection as it was an easy header for Sabin to score, at that point, an important equaliser.
Pepe made another mistake late in the second half when his sloppy play, gave away the ball to Bilbao near the penalty area. Bilbao couldn’t capitalize though.
If Pepe keeps this up then there is very little doubt who will get to warm the bench once Sergio Ramos returns.
The only thing he has common with Roberto Carlos is his tendency to sometimes do dumb things at the back, but we’ll get to that later.
Marcelo was able to keep his intensity levels high enough against Bilbao, to be effective throughout the game as far as the attacking game is concerned.
His lob passes were weighted very well and demonstrated good ball control in pressure situations.
His ball to Navas (and then his long pass to Benzema) started a break for Real Madrid. Marcelo put in a good cross into the box from the resulting short corner.
No matter how much he contributes to attack, Marcelo always manages to balance that with atrocious defensive positioning. Against Bilbao, it was no different, especially in the first half.
In fact, on some occasion he looks to be non existent in defense.
He did block some Bilbao players who tried to dribble past him and he is good at that but good teams don’t dribble past defenders. They try to out position a defender through quick one two passing. Marcelo always gets caught in no man’s land in those situations.
His attacking skills are unquestionable. Against Bilbao he was at it in full flow. Nutmegged a defender in Bilbao’s penalty area on the left and put in a hard low cross for Benzema to just get a foot on it into an open goal. Benzema couldn’t do it though but was inches away from making it 2-0 for Real Madrid.
Like Carvajal, Marcelo also got a foot in the face while he tried to defend against a long air ball from Bilbao. No surprises there as that is the way Bilbao plays at home.
But unlike Carvajal, Marcelo did get beat all ends up on the wing in the first half and Bilbao put in a dangerous cross into the penalty area. He made up for that moments later with a good interception from almost the same position.
Towards the later part of the first half Marcelo was able to get a good head on the ball and then put in a wonder long ball with the outside of his left foot to Isco. Isco couldn’t do much with it though.
But Marcelo’s finest moment came towards the end of the first half when he first controlled a long ball from the right wing with ease on the left touchline and then flicked the ball over one defender with his left foot and flicked it a second time over another defender with his head. He was promptly brought down.
His contribution in the second half , apart from nice short passing amongst the back four, started with an over hit cross into the box which was met with a weak Ronaldo header.
Bilbao had good possession in the second half which meant that Marcelo had to be good off the ball for more than a minute, for once. He did manage to make one interception which stopped a Bilbao attack, from the wings, dead in its track.
If Marcelo does decide to focus on his defensive duties, he can be an even better wing back than he is now. That is a big if though, as this is his 10nth season with Real Madrid and he has always been this way.
The goal was a result of a combination of mistakes from Marcelo and Pepe but apart from that, the defensive line was very compact and calm even under intense pressure from Bilbao’s attackers and midfielders.