Karim Benzema and late substitute Toni Kroos scored as Real Madrid beat Athletic Bilbao 2-0 at San Mames on Sunday to stay three points clear of Barcelona at the top of La Liga.

Benzema left-footed past goalkeeper Unai Simon in the 24th minute – after Federico Valverde’s ball was returned to him by Marco Asensio – to give Madrid the lead.

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Nacho and Asensio were close before Inaki Williams scored from offside as Madrid withstood some pressure from Atlético and Kroos added a second in the 90th minute.

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JUMP ON: Best/worst performers | Highlights and Notable Moments | Quotes after the game | Key statistics | Upcoming matches


Fast reaction

1. Crisis averted by two Madrid victories in three days

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Real Madrid found themselves on the brink of crisis this week after losses to Villarreal in La Liga and Barcelona in the Spanish Super Cup threatened to derail their season. These results and the way the team played made this series of games – away to Villarreal in the Copa del Rey, away to Athletic and then at home to Real Sociedad in La Liga – seemed decisive for the team’s season and even long-term future of coach Carlo Ancelotti.

Two of those matches have already been played and with this 2-0 win over San Mames and Thursday’s 3-2 win over Villarreal Madrid are back on track.

The two games were very different – the Villarreal game was a roller coaster comeback and it was a prosaic win, with some back-to-the-wall defense – but the end result is that Madrid can now face what This is followed by a strong start to the quarter-final derby of the Cup Cup against Atlético Madrid.

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Of course, all of Madrid’s problems didn’t magically disappear. The reliability of the defense is questionable, important players such as David Alaba and Aurélien Chouameni are still injured and star striker Vinicius Junior is not at his best.

But the freshness and dynamism brought to the team by Dani Ceballos and Marco Asensio from the bench at Villarreal have largely survived here.

Ancelotti always insisted that this team of proven winners would sooner or later get out of a difficult situation, and in this he was right.

2. Modric and Kroos retired after midfield reshuffle

Madrid have often chosen to rest either Luka Modric, 37, or Kroos, 33, this season as the gradual generational change towards youth Chuameni, Eduardo Camavinga and Valverde continues. But this was the first time Ancelotti had left Modric and Kroos on the bench in La Liga since the Italian returned to the club in the summer of 2021.

Modric has looked tired in recent weeks – Ancelotti admitted the Croatian hasn’t been at his best since the World Cup – while Real Madrid’s return to Villarreal on Thursday began with Kroos being taken off the pitch. Dani Ceballos replaced him and played his part in all three goals that night, scoring the winner and was deservedly rewarded with a start here in San Mames.

Ceballos didn’t have that much influence here – that constant volatility has been a longstanding problem for the midfielder – but along with him, Camavinga has put in an impressive performance as Madrid’s deepest-lying midfielder. The Frenchman has had some growing pains over the last two seasons, with Ancelotti dropping him often early, but there’s no questioning his potential and he’s been great here.

Meanwhile, Kroos reminded that he could not yet be written off due to his late goal off the bench after entering in the 85th minute. It was the same finish – the first time from the edge of the penalty area – we saw German goals again and again.

3. Muniain’s absence robs Athletic of a creative spark

You don’t want to question a manager as experienced, successful and likeable as Atlético’s Ernesto Valverde – a man who won La Liga twice with Barcelona and did a good job in Bilbao – but it’s hard to understand how a substitute manager works. a player who was previously Athletic’s creative mainstay, Iker Muniain.

Valverde said he wanted to strengthen the midfield by opting for double footing and sacrificing club captain Muniain to keep up-and-coming youngster Oyhan Sunset as the only attacking midfielder. The result is a team full of attacking pace with the Williams brothers up front but lacking the guile to make the most of their talents.

It’s a mystery how to put Mooniain, Sunset, Nico and Inaki Williams on the same team, especially if Valverde doesn’t want to launch Mooniain widely, but it might be worth taking another look at it.


Best and Worst Performers

Best: Karim Benzema, Real Madrid

Made his goal deceptively easy, with the ball behind him on his weaker left foot. Combined with Valverde set up Asensio in the second half.

Best: Eduardo Camavinga, Real Madrid

Enjoyed a more central and deeper role in midfield.

Best: Eder Militao, Real Madrid

On nights like this, his combination of strength, pace and technique makes him almost unbeatable.

Worst: Unai Simon, Athletic Club

Often looks self-confident with the ball at his feet. Quietly lost Benzema and Kroos.

Worst: Dani Ceballos, Real Madrid.

By no means did he play a terrible game, but far from his level at Villarreal three days earlier.

Worst: Oyhan Sunset, Athletic Club

Really exciting and talented player but had a good night. Substituted in the middle of the second half.


Main and notable points

Karim Benzema gave Real Madrid the lead with a superb left footed kick in which he had to turn around to kick the ball and shoot past goalkeeper Unai Simon.

Toni Kroos added another for Real Madrid in the 90th minute.


After the match: what coaches and players said

Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti on whether it was risky to send Luka Modric and Toni Kroos to the bench early in the game: “Risk, no, I don’t think so. This is the moment of the season when it is important that more players are motivated. This is a crucial moment… [Dani] Ceballos and [Marco] Asensio deserved what they did against Villarreal, Toni [Kroos] played all the matches, and perhaps the rest will do him good. Luke [Modric] I could have played, but I chose it and everything went well.”

Ancelotti on fixing past problems: “I think the analysis we did when the games weren’t going was right. We didn’t defend well. Today we defended well, we have to suffer the most here at Athletic, they are a good team. went ahead early and then they had a compact defense, the team had a collective commitment that they didn’t have in the last games.”

Real Madrid defender Nacho on the result: “Super important. Now every game is a final, we are behind the leaders, Barcelona won earlier, so it was important. [to win].”

Athletic striker Inaki Williams on the result: “We tried everything. We didn’t have enough luck. We played well, Real Madrid felt uncomfortable in the first and second half, but that’s what Real Madrid do when you’re at the top, they can kill you.” 0:2 is unfair, but now there is no time to think about it, we have an important game. [in the cup] on Thursday.”


Key statistics (provided by Sportzshala Stats & Information research)

  • Real Madrid now have a 15-match unbeaten streak against Athletic in La Liga (11-0-4 WLD), the longest unbeaten streak in La Liga history.

  • Karim Benzema now has 228 La Liga career goals; overtakes Alfredo Di Stefano (227) to tie Raúl González (228) for 5th place in La Liga’s all-time leading scorer list.

  • Karim Benzema sets a new career high with a six-goal streak away in La Liga.

  • With his goal today, more than half of Toni Kroos’ career goals in La Liga have come from outside the box (11 of 21).


Next

Sport Club: Bilbao will travel to Valencia for the Spanish Cup on Thursday, January 26 (watch live on Sportzshala+ at 2pm ET). They will then visit Celta Vigo on Sunday, January 29 for La Liga (watch live on Sportzshala+ at 12:30 pm ET).

RealMadrid: White take on city rivals Atlético Madrid in the Copa del Rey on Thursday, January 26 (watch live on Sportzshala+ at 3:00 pm ET). Real Madrid will then host Real Sociedad on Sunday, January 29 (watch live on Sportzshala+ at 3:00 pm ET).