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Immediate Reaction: Real Madrid 2- 1 Athletic Bilbao

Madrid escape a tough match with three points 

Real Madrid CF v Athletic Club - La Liga Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Real Madrid and Athletic BIlbao kicked off a rainy night at the Bernabeu with an open, end to end match. Bilbao nearly capitalized early on a Cristiano slip, with Inaki Williams forcing a decent save from Keylor Navas. Soon after, Marcelo delivered a sublime cross-field switch (with his right foot), that Isco fortunately controlled and subsequently laid off to Benzema for a wonderful goal. Zidane’s men proceeded with a tactical emphasis on playing the long ball to make use of their height and pace. Madrid also made a point to switch flanks often, and in doing so looked very fluid in the opening exchanges.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Bilbao created a few good chances and capitalized in the 27th minute, with Sabin taking advantage of a couple of fortunate bounces in the penalty box to level the score. The first half grew into another advertisement for La Liga , as the teams both committed to playing inventive, possessive football and created strong chances. Right on the stroke of halftime, Ronaldo felt the wrath of the Madrid fans’ whistles and his teammates after he was through on goal and had two open teammates and chose to go it alone, where he fluffed his shot.

Madrid opened the second half on the front foot, but lacked quality in their final delivery on the slippery pitch- which seemed to most notably affect Gareth Bale. Inaki Williams then squandered a glaring chance, after the Madrid defense was cut open. The whites continued to take the game to the Basques, but struggled creatively, almost exclusively creating chances from out wide, a recurring theme this season. After Lucas Vasquez replaced Isco, who played very well, Ronaldo bottled another glaring chance after an inch-perfect Bale cross.

Madrid continued to create half chances, which they struggled immensely to finish. In the 78th minute, Toni Kroos played a gorgeous ball over the top, which Bale took on first time, missing an open goal and an open Ronaldo. Soon after Madrid created another massive chance, with the ball getting caught between Morata and Lucas Vasquez, which was again squandered in flabbergasting fashion. But in true Real Madrid fashion, Morata celebrated his birthday by stabbing home a Gareth Bale cross after his initial shot was saved, putting the home side up 2-1 in the 82nd minute. The breathtaking match was still not over, with Inaki Williams taking advantage of a poor back-pass by Varane , requiring Keylor Navas to produce an incredible save. In the 94th minute, Madrid created another huge chance, with Ronaldo in on goal with Morata and Kroos wide open to his left, but Ronaldo selfishly went for goal himself, missing and receiving a chorus of boos again.

This was easily Real Madrid’s most exciting match of the season, with the rainy weather making its presence felt. Overall, Madrid played rather well going forward, with the exception of Cristiano Ronaldo, who continues to struggle. Again, without a defensive midfielder, the game was open and Bilbao did not find trouble creating chances. Los Merengues faced a stern test in Athletic Club, and while their play was not spectacular, they will need to continue to win these type of matches if they are to win their first league title in five years.

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