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Immediate Reaction: Athletic Bilbao 1 - 1 Real Madrid

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Real Madrid grind out a draw. Here’s the nitty gritty — tactics and all.

Athletic Club v Real Madrid CF - La Liga Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images

Real Madrid grind out a 1-1 draw against Bilbao. Isco, off the bench, equalized for Real Madrid in the second half after Iker Muniain opened the scoring in the first. Here’s our quick reaction. Still to come: Player ratings, tactical review, and post-game podcast.

Bullet points from Kiyan’s notebook

  • This was a tremendous match from Bilbao, from top to bottom. They man-marked Modric and snuffed out his space when Real Madrid were building from the back. They picked up vertical outlets and forced long passes to Karim Benzema, who had the difficult (but important) task of holding the play and allowing the team some relief. It wasn’t perfectly sustainable, as they did start to leave vertical holes as their energy waned, but they kept up a really good pace and did a lot of things right to unnerve Lopetegui’s tactical scheme.
  • Two things that helped break lines in the first half: Asensio and Marcelo cutting inside with some incisive dribbling. Bilbao had no answer for these runs, as their entire defensive line would have to start second-guessing where they need to go. As predicted, Isco’s degree of unpredictability helped cut through in the second half.
  • Bilbao made it a point early and often, to try to get Iñaki into a foot race with Real Madrid’s defensive line. They hit him with long balls in hopes that he could latch on, but both Ramos and Varane were in good positions to defend these passes. What really hurt Real Madrid: defending the half-space between Ramos and Marcelo. Just before Real Madrid conceded in the first half, Iñaki found space there with a run, and had a good chance go just wide. And not long after, Marcos made a run in that same space unchallenged, and was able to square it to Muniain (animo!) for the goal.
  • Casemiro came in for Ceballos at half-time, and the team shifted into a 4-1-4-1 shape without the ball, with Kroos hedging a bit higher up the pitch. That allowed him to do this, in the build-up to Real Madrid’s equalizer:

  • The press (particularly in the first half, but throughout, really) wasn’t great. There was a lack of cohesiveness. Often Ceballos would try to counter-press but no white shirts were behind him. These little individual defensive gambles caused Real Madrid’s defensive vulnerability to manifest itself as Bilbao were feisty on the break. Should be noted, here, that Courtois was quite good.
  • Not Bale’s best game, by any means. His passing and shooting especially, was uncharacteristically off. Great assist, obviously.
  • Varane was great tonight. He had a lot on his shoulders, and passed his tests.
  • Modric not so much — dispossessed five times at half and had little influence as Bilbao really made it a point to deny his space.
  • Two dropped points in a tough away match. It’s not awful, but it’s not ideal, obviously, in a La Liga chase that requires a lot of consistency and weekly efficiency. Could’ve used Bale’s shooting boots tonight.