Real Madrid Vs. Athletic Bilbao, La Liga 2012: Benzema Returns In Fashion (5-1)

Denis Doyle

It wasn't a great Athletic Bilbao, but Real Madrid played its most successful home game of the season. Mourinho decided to lineup Karim Benzema and Callejón upfront, and he also paired Xabi Alonso and Modric in the midfield. Benzema shone as he completed one of his best matches in Real Madrid's jersey.

It's not easy to match Benzema's game against Athletic Bilbao. And it's not easy to understand why he isn't enjoying the minutes he deserves in this team neither. The French player should arguably be as important as Alonso, Ramos, Özil or Di María, but he still has to sit out in many games to see Gonzalo Higuaín play. That's not good, neither for him nor for the team.

Bilbao started the game off quite well, but they found themselves down in the scoreboard in the 12th after a brilliant 50m pass from Luka Modric to Karim Benzema. The striker gained control of the ball and flicked it over Gorka Iraizoz, but the referee gave an own-goal to Aurtenetxe. He clearly touched the ball, but Benzema's shot was also going in.

After this first goal, Athletic looked a lot worse. Bielsa's offensive system moves the midfielders forward, so the team doesn't have a defensive midfielder whatsoever. That's something Real Madrid took profit from applying a good pressure every time Bilbao's offensive men received the ball. Whenever the defenders recovered it, Real Madrid launched very effective counterattacks.

It wasn't until the 30th minute that Real Madrid scored its second goal, though. Mesut Özil crossed the ball off a set piece and found Ramos. The Spanish defender only had to push the ball in with his head, in what was a very big mistake by Bilbao's defense. It's not a surprise to see this team conceding five goals. Javi Martínez played as a center back last season, and he was the main reason why they were able to qualify to Europe League and Copa del Rey's finals. Once he left the club, Ekiza and San José were nowhere close to Martínez's skills.

Shortly after came the most beautiful goal of the night. Karim Benzema received the ball from Callejón. He then turned 180º and placed the ball where Iraizoz couldn't save it. And he did it with his left foot. Again, it's good to see him back right before Real Madrid visits the Etihad Stadium.

Three minutes before the referee called the end of the first half, Ibai Gómez scored Athletic's first and only goal. Bielsa's team never stood a chance of overcoming the deficit, so Mourinho used the second half to rest Benzema and give minutes to Khedira and Morata. The German midfielder will be a very valuable asset to his coach, and he scored almost the first time he received the ball. His physical presence is yet to be matched in this roster, and there will be times during the match against Manchester City in which Real Madrid will need Khedira to step up and deliver.

But before Khedira's goal, a beautiful combination between Cristiano Ronaldo, Özil and Benzema finished with Özil's first goal in this Liga BBVA season. He didn't play great, as most of Real Madrid's good chances came off Modric and Cristiano Ronaldo's boots. Özil will have another opportunity to show how important he is to this team this next Wednesday against the reigning Premier League champions.

It wasn't strange to see the Santiago Bernabéu cheering for Fernando Llorente just when he got ready to warm up. This happened after Benzema's brilliant goal, so it's not that Real Madrid needs another striker that fights for minutes. Llorente is a friendly player, but Cristiano Ronaldo has already score about 160 goals for this team and he is yet to be cheered that effusively in the Santiago Bernabéu. Today, the Portuguese star played with stitches in his eye after David Navarro elbowed him in Valencia. Ronaldo tried to score and shot the ball 11 times, but goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz was great against him.

It'd be good to see him getting some love from the Santiago Bernabéu every game, but until then, he can ask Silva, Llorente, Del Piero or Ronaldinho how that feels.

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