The First Half - A Quiet Start But Effective Start
Last week Madrid played splendid football for 20 minutes, before fading. In this game it took them that long to get into the game.
Lined up 4-4-2 with Sami Khedira coming into the side, Madrid's forwards, Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema, played off the backs of the Athletic defenders, and were not entirely successful. Both were repeatedly called offside in the early stages. Ronaldo had an initially frustrating first half, with less interplay than usual between himself and a more subdued Marcelo. There was little wide-play in general, with Madrid playing largely through the centre. Madrid's first shot on goal wasn't until the 25th minute.
One moment of inspiration in the first half resulted in Madrid's 1-0 however. Karim Benzema lobbed the ball, completely fooling the Athletic back-line who wasted time appealing for offside, to Isco who kept his head and scored from close-range when one-on-one with the keeper.
And Cristiano Ronaldo broke his league duck in the final action of the first half, thereby demonstrating how deadly a player of his quality can be during a nominally "weak" performance: Athletic allowed him a free header off a free kick by Angel di Maria. He scored it. Of course.
Madrid headed into the break two goals up. The scoreline didn't quite reflect a lack-lustre performance to that point, but Athletic deserved no better having had no shots on goal; and Diego Lopez will rarely have a quieter half of football.
The Second Half: Madrid Brighten On The Counter-Attack
Two goals up and Madrid were under little pressure, happy to sit back to an extent, press selectively, and hit on the break. Athletic were reduced to playing some long-ball football, but they were hampered by injury and by having to make all 3 substitutions by the hour mark - two at the break and one forced by injury to Iker Muniain.
And Madrid pounced when they had the opportunity. This is still a team that likes to show it's power and speed and ability to transition. Karim Benzema played in Isco, who's shot was deflected straight into goal for his double.
Athletic scored a consolation goal in the 79th minute through Ibai Gómez.
Match Notes It was a surprisingly tame game. Athletic are a physical, often borderline-violent side prone to hard-fouling. This game was entirely civilized. Cristiano Ronaldo has equaled Dani as 19th top-scorer in La Liga. Sami Khedira, returning from injury, played just over an hour of football. Athletic had a penalty appeal turned down in the 81st minute. This is the first time since 2009-10 that Madrid have 9 points in three games!