Real Madrid drop points against Athletic Bilbao
Updated: Dec 25, 2019
Dec 22, 2019.
Real Madrid's starting XI: Courtois, Carvajal, Ramos, Militao, Mendy, Valverde, Modric, Kroos, Rodrygo, Vinicius and Benzema
Real Madrid lined up in a traditional 4-3-3 formation with Valverde playing as the anchor in place of the suspended Casemiro. Zidane made four other changes to the starting line up from El Classico as Militao, Modric, Vinicius, and Rodrygo also started replacing Varane, Bale, and Isco.
Real Madrid looked good from the very beginning. They started with intensity and had some really good passing sequences. Modric early on skipped past couple of defenders and sent Vinicius through but he rushed his shot and sent it wide. Real had good control of the game and they were working hard to recover the ball when they lose possession. There were also a couple of cynical challenges from the Bilbao players to stop Real from attacking (Kroos both times) but Referee had no plans on bringing out the cards. Real's best chance of the first 15 mins came when Benzema and Vinicius had a lovely combination play that sent Vinicius through on goal. He skipped past his marker and went for the shot but his attempt was straight to the Unai Simon who did well to make himself bigger and save the shot. Vinicius could have squared it to Benzema but I think he was in his right to go for goal from that position. Shortly after Inaki was one on one against Ramos and the Los Blancos captain made an excellent tackle to win the ball and end Bilbao's attack.
Madrid was doing well with their press and winning the ball in dangerous positions. One such play led to Kroos making a brilliant run with the ball past few Bilbao players into the box and a good scoring position. Unfortunately, his attempt clipped the shoulder of Unai Simon and hit the crossbar. On the other end, Fede Valverde made a rare giveaway which led to Inaki Williams getting an opportunity on a shot at goal but Courtois gets down well to parry it away. Modric was very involved throughout. He was in the heart of most attacks, created two opportunities with a nice cross to Vinicius after winning the ball in the final third which Vinicius fluffs the header and then shortly after a vintage Modric outside of the boot lob pass towards Big Benz ended in a corner.
Another golden opportunity fell to Benzema when an error from Bilbao player got him one on one with Unai Simon but his touch was a bit heavy. He went around the goalkeeper and his shot from a tight angle was cleared off the line. Both Militao and Mendy were solid at the back along with Ramos and Carvajal. Nothing was getting passed them and they were thwarting all attacks Bilbao were able to muster up which weren't many up till now. In the first 35 minutes, there were very few crosses from Madrid. They were playing in possession and doing well to recycle to ball from flank to flank and trying to create through the middle with combination plays. They had 70% possession and created several good chances with 10 shots and 5 of them on target. Their xG for the first half was 1.60 but failed to convert any of their clear chances. Rodrygo put in two pinpoint crosses to Benzema in the far post but he headed them straight to the keeper. Bilbao thought they had taken the lead right before halftime through Kodro but it was correctly called back for offside.
The teams went to halftime with the score at 0-0 and no cards against either team. Bilbao was mostly absent in attack with just a couple of chances. Real Madrid was dominating and probably should have been ahead had they converted any of their many chances into goal.
Early in the second half, Miltiao got accidentally hit in the eye by Kodro. This led to Zidane having to use up a substitution as Nacho made his way in replacing Militao. The first 15 mins of the second half were even. Neither team created much until Nacho's header following Kroos's corner beat the keeper but hit the woodwork for the second time in the game.
At this point, Bilbao was playing a little higher up the pitch and getting more comfortable in the game. Zidane sent in Bale to replace Rodrygo in the 61st minute. Rodrygo had some good moments but was largely average. Mendy had a nice dribble past couple of defenders into the penalty area but he was dispossessed of the ball before anything came of it. There was a potential for a penalty call; however, nothing was given and the play carried on. On the other end a long ball almost caught Madrid's defense out but Courtois was quick of his line and calmly averted the danger. His resulting clearance almost created a goal-scoring opportunity for Madrid but Modric's shot was blocked. With the score still at 0-0, Zidane decided to sub in Jovic for Vinicius in the 71st minute.
Athletic Bilbao was now settling comfortably in their defensive half playing a very organized block of 5-3-2. The game had lost its rhythm a bit and Real Madrid didn't have the same control in the game as they did in the first half. Athletic Bilbao was still not much of a threat going forward. Real Madrid was finding it harder and harder to break them down through the middle and the number of crosses started increasing. With Jovic, Benzema, and Bale all in the pitch, it wasn't a bad plan B in theory. But Real Madrid put in a number of crosses with no avail. They needed better delivery in the box and those were very few. Real were still working hard with lots of movements and crosses in the box. One such cross from Carvajal was met with a towering header from Jovic but for the third time in the game, the attempt hit the post and ball stayed out of the net. Ramos moved up the field to play makeshift center forward in hopes to get at the end of one of the many crosses with 6 mins of injury time but Real was not able to get in the score sheet. On the 95th minute, Courtois made an amazing save from a point-blank range off a Villalibre header. It was called offside by the assistant referee but replays suggest that had the ball went in it might have stood following a VAR check. Last-minute Courtois heroics meant that the score ended 0-0.
Real Madrid had an xG of 2.95 (20 shots, 8 on target) but failed to get on the score sheet.
Real Madrid dominated the game and played some really good football. The late surge in crosses in both halves might skew perception but they initially did well to recycle possession and create a number of good chances through the middle with some nice combination plays.
Never the less, Real Madrid need to win these types of games if they want to challenge for the League title. This is two points dropped at the Bernabeu rather than a point gained.
Athletic Bilbao's goalkeeper Unai Simon was the man of the match.
Three Stars of the Match
Modric: Bossed the midfield in the first half and had 88% pass accuracy with 2 key passes.
Carvajal: Had the highest number of touches and 4 key passes. His passing at the final third could have been a bit better overall.
Valverde: Did an immense job playing in place of the suspended Casemiro. Covered almost everything and made some bursting runs with the ball upfield. Could have used his energy higher up the field during attacks more.