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Immediate Reaction: Real Madrid 1 - 1 Athletic Bilbao

Real Madrid attack in waves, but can’t get the winning goal.

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

Real Madrid draw Bilbao 1-1 at the Bernabeu tonight (Iñaki Williams; Cristiano Ronaldo). Here’s our quick reaction. Still to come: Player ratings, post-game podcast, and tactical review.

There wasn’t a whole lot behind this match in terms of La Liga seeding. Real Madrid will be in the top-four, and Bilbao will be on the mid-table treadmill. Riding on this? Little. Yet, it was eventful, and certainly didn’t lack any heart from either side. Bilbao, enduring a season to forget under Ziganda, stepped up and punched a bit above their weight. In the absence of Iker Muniain, Iñigo Cordoba pulled strings offensively, and fed Iñaki a beautiful through-ball to lead to the visitors’ opening goal. Mikel Balenziaga put in a really nice two-way shift at left back — helping Bilbao funnel possession in rare moments they had the ball, while joining the attack when he could.

And Real Madrid worked hard. This certainly wasn’t a result stemmed from laxity. Zidane’s scheme enabled the team to keep the ball for long stretches, while using both Marcelo and Carvajal as the focal points of their entire offense. Once Bilbao scored and took shelter beneath their low-block, they were faced with the tough task of keeping Lucas Vazquez and Marco Asensio — both on their dribbling game, and both playing key passes from tight spots, along with Toni Kroos — in front of them. To be sure, they couldn’t contain Real Madrid’s offensive flair, and relied on Kepa to make several big saves. Kepa, who had a bit of a chip on his shoulder in this game particularly, saved what would’ve been one of the goals of the season:

Real Madrid’s attack tonight was generally fine, but unlucky. Kepa was brilliant. It was the defense which cost them, ultimately.

Bullet points from Kiyan’s notebook

  • Cordoba’s pass to Iñaki (lovely finish by Williams, by the way), was brilliant. But Real Madrid’s defensive line was broken too easily. A lot of criticism was placed on Ramos, but zone 14 was wide-open, and Bilbao had way too much space to work with. Modric’s positioning in the first half was a bit wonky, leaving the team’s shape puzzling when facing counter-attacks.
  • Iñigo Martinez had a lot to do tonight, and he dealt with it all. A nice performance from him to get Bilbao organized facing the waves of attack and ensuring everything gets cleared to safety.
  • Apart from the key focal points on the flanks — Carvajal and Marcelo — I really enjoyed what Vazquez and Asensio brought to the table. As you know, I’m an advocate for Gareth Bale to start matches if he’s healthy (particularly if he’s already had plenty of rest), but Vazquez hasn’t disappointed during this entire stint. He continued to do important defensive work, and looked good offensively too. Toni Kroos was another, that pulled strings nicely tonight.
  • Might be neither here nor there, but, Karim Benzema was much deeper than Cristiano. Did not see much offensive production from him tonight, scoring or otherwise.
  • A bad result and a decent performance that won’t move the needle either way. With Valencia’s loss earlier to Getafe, Real Madrid stay third despite not getting the three points.

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