Real Madrid won against Bilbao 1-2 San Mames stadium a couple of days ago. Two goals from Benzema for Real Madrid and a goal from Sabin for Athletic Bilbao might give you the impression that it was an average win for Real Madrid, but it wasn’t.
It was an amazing result as fixtures against Bilbao are always very hard for Real Madrid at any point in the season. How did Real Madrid do it?
It comes down to the simplicity Benitez had in his thought when it came to selecting the starting eleven against Bilbao.
In his post match interview he admitted that the line up against Bilbao was specifically for Bilbao and that line up had it’s limitations. But not against Bilbao.
Let’s have a look at the simple things the the three attackers (Ronaldo, Benzema and Isco) did against Bilbao to deliver Benitez, his first amazing result:
First thing that should be mentioned here is that how often he got fouled on the wings. Bilbao were constantly frustrated by Isco’s close ball control and his ability to pick out passes that mattered in tight spaces.
In the first half Isco, almost, had a shot on goal from a Ronaldo cross from the left. I say almost because Isco had lined up his right foot for a volley and was ready to let it go till Benzema interfered and ruined it for Isco.
The one reason why Isco always gets the nod before many other good benchwarmers is because of his work ethic. Against Bilbao, he constantly ran back to close down Bilbao attackers which helped Real Madrid stay organized at the back.
Isco’s defensive work on the wings was particularly important which allowed Carvajal to play more freely.
Isco played all over the pitch against Bilbao and his crosses from the right were excellent. Time after time again Isco dribbled past one or two Bilbao defenders and put in a cross into the box. That kept Bilbao on the back foot throughout the first half.
With that said, whether it is the right wing or the left wing, Isco’s wrong foot is horrible. There was a moment in the first half when Benzema switched the ball to Isco on the edge of the penalty area with a short pass.
Isco took a weak shot with his left foot which gave away the ball to Bilbao as the ball went out of play. That to me limited his game against Bilbao and limits his effectiveness against all elite teams of Europe.
Isco’s clean backheel pass on the edge of the Bilbao penalty area put Benzema in space which he couldn’t capitalize on.
That wasn’t the only time Isco showed flair as in the second half he demonstrated his juggling skills, again on the right wing, while two Bilbao defenders tried to snatch the ball off him.
His silky skills were the reason why he got fouled so many times on the wings against Bilbao. Bilbao did not have an answer to the simple things Isco did on the pitch, which looked amazing because Isco’s did them with so much ease and class.
His cheeky first touch pass to release Ronaldo on the wings frustrated Bilbao even more.
Isco also showed some good pace when he was released from the middle with a glorious Modric first touch pass from the middle, after which Isco played a simple ball to Benzema who took a good touch on the ball but was unable to score a goal.
I felt that Isco connected very naturally with Benzema against Bilbao which was evident from all the sneaky passes he played to Benzema in tight spaces in and around the penalty area of Bilbao.
And when two attackers do that, defenses get annoyed.
That was Isco’s last contribution to the Bilbao game as Benitez brought on Jese for Isco in the 71 minute of the game.
Jesse immediately got into the thick of the action and crossed the ball to Benzema in the box and moments later made a blistering run on a break from the left wing before he was pulled back from behind.
It was clear that Bilbao just couldn’t handle Jesse’s break out acceleration and running speed. Sometimes one wonders, how good Jese can be if Benitez allows him regular playing time with Real Madrid.
Before the Bilbao game, Benzema had scored a goal in each of his appearances this season for Real Madrid. Against Bilbao, he took it a step further and scored two on a single night.
These weren’t just two goals, these were two goals which won Real Madrid, its most difficult away game of the season bar Barcelona’s.
Benzema and Isco linked very effectively throughout the night. Early on in the match, Benzema had a quick exchange of short passes with Isco on the edge of the area before Benzema took a snapshot which went wide for a corner.
That quick play from Benzema made his intentions clear to Bilbao defense from the start. And Benzema didn’t let up for that moment on.
He tried overheard kill which went outside and tried to dribble past players on the break but couldn’t.
I don’t know what exactly happened but it looked like Bilbao decided that Benzema should be rewarded for all these efforts and gifted him with a goal which made it 5 in 5 for Benzema.
San Jose’s blind back pass was intercepted by Benzema and he wasted to time in putting it past a helpless diving goalkeeper.
Madrid took the lead but what this goal teaches to all young strikers is a simple lesson. That strikers should be switched on at all times in a given game because you just never know when the opponent bizarrely helps you in scoring a goal.
Benzema kept on taking shots and one of his low curling shots from the edge of the penalty area won Real Madrid a corner which is always a help.
The interesting thing about Benzema is that, his biggest quality is not scoring goals. It is linking up with other players and creating chances.
That’s what he did with Carvajal running on the wings and moments later had a good chance to head home another goal which he couldn’t.
One area where Benzema did lack against Bilbao was his tendency to take too many touches inside the area when he is about to take a shot. That cost him a good opportunity in the second half.
But as is always the case with Benzema, he kept calm and started to run back to help out the defense to make up for his bad judgement earlier against Bilbao.
Benzema shot another one wide off the mark from a low Jesse cross on the edge of the area but, again, made up for it with a great chest pass to Kovacic on the wings to release Kovacic who then released Ronaldo. Ronaldo passed it back to Kovacic to end the move.
That was Benzema last touch on the ball as Casemiro came on for Benzema in the 79th minute of the game.
Casemiro almost immediately got stuck in a tackle and played as a good anchorman in the midfield for the remainder of the game.
Finally, we approach the king.
Has there been a game of football where Ronaldo has not taken double digit shots on goal?
Athletico Bilbao love beating the aristocrats from the capital and it doesn’t get more aristocratic than Perez’s Ronaldo.
The crowd was hostile towards Ronaldo from the start and made known their feeling by booing him every time he touched the ball. Bilbao needed the points desperately so it was understandable why they wanted to unsettle Real Madrid’s most lethal player.
Early on in the game, Ronaldo did some great dribbling on the wings, got past a player and put in a great cross for Isco to volley for a goal before Benzema destroyed that move.
That didn’t demoralized Ronaldo and he was at it again with a leaping header to take back possession after had initially lost it.
He tried to take on Bilbao and had a good turn till the edge of the 18 yard box and was tackled hard by a Bilbao’s defense which led Ronaldo to change wings.
Ronaldo cut in again from the right this time with a pass to Benzema who couldn’t return the favor and lost the ball with a bad pass.
Ronaldo got more aggressive as the game went on and in a space of two minutes took two shots. One went wide and the other stinged the goalkeeper hands after Modric’s lob ball ended up loose on the edge of the penalty box.
Moments later, Ronaldo decided to go for goal on the break himself and shot over while Modric looked bemused as he was through on goal. Had Ronaldo been Modric’s position and Modric hadn’t used Ronaldo for that chance, he would have been spitting out feathers from his mouth.
Ronaldo is the sort of player who is never quiet in a game by his own choice.
He got himself involved this time with a bad pass which gave away the ball to Bilbao and then with a overhit long ball to Benzema.
In the second half, Ronaldo went quiet. Perhaps, wasn’t in the mood as he was yellow carded by the referee for disrespecting him after Modric was called for a foul.
He continued with his clever tricks and that got him tackled hard by Bilbao midfield players who consequently took the ball away from him.
Ronaldo seemed to have learnt his lesson when he along with Modric exchanged quick short passes in the middle of the park to frustrate Bilbao.
He passed to Kovacic on the right who then passed it to Marcelo, who then set up Ronaldo with a header. Ronaldo’s weak header didn’t negate the fact that Ronaldo, Marcelo, Kovacic and Benzema create space for each other easily on the field with quick first touch passing.
Late in the second half Ronaldo was released with a great flick pass by Jese after Carvajal had picked Bilbao’s pocket to get possession back . Ronaldo ran towards the Bilbao goal aggressively but couldn’t dribble past two defenders and lost the ball.
Ronaldo again had a chance to score a goal from the left side of the pitch. He got the ball, he ran with it and took a low shot with his left which flew just wide of the far post.
He seemed to have lost confidence in his dribbling ability and it was evident against Bilbao.
Ronaldo must have had three or four good chances to score a goal against Bilbao but couldn’t convert even one. Towards the end of the game when Real Madrid had another counter attack opportunity, Ronaldo couldn’t control a high bouncing ball to set himself up with a one v one chance and hence was booed again by the crowd.
Real Madrid were great with the ball and compact without the ball against Bilbao.
With Kovacic, Real Madrid’s attacking play looked markedly more direct and that allowed Real Madrid to remain calm after Bilbao had equalised.
Real Madrid had a good period of possession just after conceding the goal and the back four looked very comfortable on the ball.
Real Madrid took a total of 28 shots against Bilbao which is not something many teams have done at San Mames stadium.
Benitez was quick to point out the fact that Real Madrid didn’t convert their opportunities but still won the game.
And that’s the end product everyone wants. A win. Real Madrid did win and now sit at the summit of La Liga.