Real Madrid 3 - 1 Athletic Club (Kroos, Benzema x2; Capa). Here’s our quick reaction. Still to come: Player ratings, post-game podcast, post-game quotes, and plenty more analysis.
If it was ever easy to identify a turning point, a single juncture where the game pivots into a different direction, then today it was Raul Garcia committing a brutal challenge on Toni Kroos in the 13th minute, receiving his second yellow card from a second foul on Kroos just minutes prior.
Before Garcia’s red card (remarkably his first in over eight years), Athletic were pressing high rabidly. Zidane’s men, for all their ingenuity facing it (Mendy and Carvajal tucking in narrow, Vazquez, Vinicius, Fede dropping deep), couldn’t escape it. Once Garcia was sent off, Athletic dialled back, hedged into a low 4-4-1 block with Iñaki the only man ahead of the ball.
As difficult as it’s been for Real Madrid to conjure up high quality chances at a high volume clip against low blocks, it was, in this game, better to take a hammer and nails against this Athletic side than it was to deal with their pressing (which probably eventually would’ve waned as the game wore on). And Athletic were cracking. Real Madrid had nearly 75% possession in the first half, and Athletic were leaving more and more white shirts open in the box as the half progressed.
Toni Kroos opened the scoring just before half-time:
In the second half, Athletic tried to crawl out of their half more, and had a couple good spells of possession. They found an equalizer through Ander Capa, who was a step faster than Sergio Ramos:
But Real Madrid still looked comfortable dealing with that set-back. Their movement offensively was good. Mendy, Vazquez, and Carvajal were all putting in good efforts defensively (even if the first two had bad moments on the ball), and Raphael Varane had Iñaki Williams in his pocket.
Dani Carvajal, from a set piece, found Karim Benzema for the winner in the 74th minute:
Benzema also scored his second just before the final whistle, making it 3 - 1. He was fantastic the entire sequence in transition, which essentially started with a Thibaut Courtois save the other way, where Real Madrid got away with a gap in the left half-space.
There is a lot to break down here beyond this reaction, including tactical wrinkles, the substitutions, controversial referee decisions, and a lot more. Stay tuned.