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La Liga 2015: Athletic Bilbao Vs. Real Madrid: Player Ratings

A lethargic, lackluster first-half cost Real Madrid three points as a determined Bilbao leveraged Los Blancos opening stanza weakness into a 1-0 victory that blew the title race wide open. Real played with frantic intensity in the second, but it was not enough to snatch a point from the jaws of the hungry, committed lions. Grades below the jump.

Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images

Iker Casillas (6): Casillas is hard to rate properly because Real played essentially the entire second half in Bilbao's end, rendering him a spectator. It's hard to fault the captain for Aritz Aduriz's match-winning strike because it was such a beautifully constructed goal. Rico's service and Aduriz's execution were flawless.

Dani Carvajal (5): Carvajal has had better matches, as he failed to effectively link-up with Bale and ignite Real's attack down the right flank. Still his workrate and intensity were superlative as always and that must be commended. He never stopped running as Real pressed frantically for an equalizer that sadly never came.

Pepe (7): The stalwart Portuguese center-back played a massive match, even though it was he who was marking Aduriz on the winning goal. Pepe's positioning was stellar, breaking up numerous Bilbao attacks. Perhaps most impressive of all was his ability to successfully defend the blistering pace of Inaki Williams, running step-by-step with him down the flank in the 57th minute before shutting him harmlessly down.

Raphael Varane (7.5) The Frenchman put in a towering man-of-the-match caliber performance, intercepting countless passes with his lanky frame and fantastic positional awareness. Varane had three key intercepts in the first 20 minutes of the match when Athletic was hurtling forward with reckless abandon. After a slight dip in form earlier this season, Varane seems to be finding his best form at exactly the right time.

Marcelo (5.5): The Brazilian enjoyed a so-so evening. He wasn't poor by any stretch, but he also failed to influence the match with the brilliant service and deadly combination play he's demonstrated so much over the past month.

Toni Kroos (4.5): Perhaps the most visible victim of Carlo Ancelotti's lack of rotation policy. The German, pivotal to his country's World Cup victory last summer and playing for the first time outside the confines of the Bundesliga and its winter break, registered one of his poorest, most ineffective showings in a royal white kit. His usually metronomic passing was sloppy and he too appeared visibly frustrated by Bilbao's airtight marking. Given license to roam further forward by the inclusion of Illarra in Real's starting XI, Kroos was unable to offer much of an attacking threat and failed to help Isco link play from the middle of the pitch.

Isco (5): Isco enjoyed a far better second half, growing into the match and finding a slice of his typical rhythm. Bilbao did an excellent job of marking, hurrying and harassing the young starlet throughout the contest, though, separating him from the BBC and forcing him into low percentage passes. The constant pressure began to tell on Isco who became frustrated enough to earn a yellow card.

Asier Illarramendi (5.5): Illarra played a decent if somewhat pedestrian match in the deep lying defensive midfield position. His passing, while not spectacular, was serviceable, allowing Toni Kroos to play a more advanced role in Real's attack. He added a edgy presence in front of the back-four and dealt out some sharp tackles on his way to a booking before being substituted for Jese.

Gareth Bale (5): The ex-Spurs man was mostly invisible throughout the match, save for a sharp ball into the box that Gorka knocked away from an onrushing Cristiano Ronaldo in the 52nd minute and a cheeky wing-and-a-prayer 75 yard rainbow that slammed improbably off the top of the goal in the waning moments of the match.  Credit must be given to Mikel Rico, Benat and Mikel Balenziaga for stifling Bale and Dani Carvajal's movement down the right flank in the first half. Bilbao defended the right side fluidly and cohesively, making Real unbalanced and forcing play through the center of the pitch where Madrid were far less dangerous. Bale worked hard but also made a few exceedingly poor decisions with the ball as the match wore on.

Cristiano Ronaldo (4): Not only was Ronaldo ineffective, he appeared petulant and displayed terrible body language utterly unbecoming of player/leader of his stature. The less said about this performance the better.

Karim Benzema (5): In what was a decidedly toothless and subpar performance from the BBC, Benzema at least threatened Bilbao's backline with flashes of his typically inventive, unpredictable movement. However, these flourishes were far too scarce and Big Benz was ultimately unable to influence the match to any considerable degree before being substituted for Javier Hernandez. Bilbao frustrated the BBC by clogging their passing lanes and isolating Isco from the front three, thereby shutting down his supply lines. Benzema was unable to find a way through.

Javier Hernandez (N/A): He played for a little more than ten minutes and didn't really do anything notable.

Jese (N/A) : Jese came on for Illarra and was only noticeable when he failed to play-in a wide-open, visibly upset CR7. Jese seems to be lacking confidence as well as sharpness.

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