Knowing that they had a golden chance to extend on their buffer at the top of the La Liga table, Real Madrid certainly didn’t pass up on that opportunity as Los Blancos landed a 2-1 victory on Wednesday night.
Watching Sevilla drop points against a struggling Barcelona 24 hours prior to their trip to San Mamés, the Spanish giants will know that they open Christmas Day holding a commanding eight-point buffer over the chasing pack.
With their attacking talisman once again stealing most of the headlines in midweek, Madrid also managed to pile more pressure onto what has become an inconsistent Bilbao outfit.
Appearing to cruise their way to this season’s La Liga crown, we have taken a look at the main talking points following Wednesday’s meeting in Basque Country.
Madrid go marching on
While Real Madrid might have had to settle for a downbeat 0-0 stalemate against Cadiz on home soil over the weekend, Head Coach Carlo Ancelotti made it clear that he was calling on an immediate response from his side here.
Dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak in their camp that saw the likes of Gareth Bale, Marcelo and Isco all miss out once again, those issues behind the scenes certainly didn’t slow Los Blancos down at San Mamés.
Coming flying out of the blocks and spearheaded by leading goalscorer Karim Benzema, it took the French international just seven minutes to add another brace to his collection.
Firing Madrid into an early 2-0 lead and once again underlining why the 34-year-old has only continued to gain a host of plaudits from across Spain this season, it is hard to argue that Ancelotti’s men were not worthy of maximum points on Wednesday night.
Despite also having summer arrival David Alaba miss out, the former Everton boss was filled with praise for what could be described as a makeshift squad in Basque Country.
Entering Christmas Day with the mood in their camp at a red-hot high, Madrid’s 2-1 win on Wednesday also extends their unbeaten run to 15 matches on the bounce.
Huff and puff not enough for Bilbao
Managing to land what was a much-needed 3-2 victory against Europa League knockout stage outfit Real Betis last weekend, Bilbao had made it clear that they were desperate to try and find a festive boost on Wednesday night.
However, watching Benzema fire Madrid into a 2-0 lead with just seven minutes on the clock, Los Leones were always facing an uphill struggle after a nightmare start at San Mamés.
Despite showing some welcomed resolve in the second-half, Marcelino’s men failed to build off of Oihan Sancet’s fine consolation strike just three minutes after Benzema bagged his second.
With Inaki Williams forcing Thibaut Courtois into a fantastic stop 15 minutes after the restart, Wednesday’s 2-1 defeat means that the midweek hosts have recorded just a single win from any of their last 10 appearances, a run that stems back to October 23rd.
Continuing to tumble their way down the La Liga table and now chasing a five-point deficit to the top-six, it appears that there could be some mounting pressure on Marcelino’s shoulders in Basque Country.
What’s coming up in the New Year?
Knowing that they will open Christmas Day and the New Year holding a commanding eight-point buffer at the top of the table, there is no doubt that Los Blancos will simply be looking to keep up that momentum in 2022.
Losing just a pair of their 25 matches in all competitions this season, Los Blancos will be next seen on January 2nd when they make the trip to relegation scrappers Getafe in what should be seen as another golden chance.
Storming their way to the knockout stage of this season’s Champions League, some around the Spanish capital could be smelling a potential famous campaign under their returning boss.
As for Bilbao, slumping back to losing ways after what was their much-needed boost against Real Betis last weekend, Wednesday’s hosts will now know they’re in a real uphill battle to secure a European return.
Just about hanging onto their spot in the top-half of the La Liga table, Marcelino’s men are desperate to find some momentum before their Super Cup showdown against the defending champions.
Marking their return in 11 days time away at Osasuna, all eyes from across Spain will fall on Jeddah on January 12th when they face off against Atletico Madrid in Saudi Arabia.
Athletic Bilbao: Agirrezabala, De Marcos, Álvarez, Núñez, Balenziaga, Muniain, Vencedor, García Carrillo, Zarraga, Williams, Sancet
Subs: Lekue, Williams, Serrano, Garcia
Real Madrid: Courtois, Vázquez, Militão, Nahco, Mendy, Valverde, Camavinga, Kroos, Hazard, Benzema, Vinícius Júnior
Subs: Gonzalez Carmona, Jovic, Mariano
Goals: Athletic Bilbao: Sancet 10′ – Real Madrid: Benzema 4′, 7′
Yellow Cards: Athletic Bilbao: Balenziaga, Vencedor – Real Madrid: Vinícius Júnior, Camavinga
Red Cards: N/A
Referee: César Soto Grado