Edging out Athletic Bilbao in a fiercely fought encounter, Real Madrida s 2-1 win at San Mames has put Rafael Benitez firmly in the driving seat since his appointment at the club. Considered to be his first a testa since taking over, Beniteza s game plan was accurately executed by the players on the pitch as Karim Benzema scored twice to give the club three deserved points.
Now sitting on the top of the La Liga table, here are the three talking points as we analyse Rafa Beniteza s Real Madrid following their 2-1 win over Athletic Bilbao.
Keylor Navas Comes Good, Varane Takes Charge
Having already earned a place in the history books at Real Madrid, Keylor Navas failed to break Miguel Angela s record as he conceded his first goal this season after Sabin Moreno found the back of the net to equalise for Athletic Bilbao. However, Keylor Navasa performance remains the talking point of the game as the Costa Rican international once again came to Real Madrida s rescue. While Navas single handedly denied Granada at Santiago Bernabeu last weekend, the goalkeeper was constantly called into action against Athletic Bilbao who were left frustrated following his heroics.
His performance was complemented by Raphael Varane who seems to have made a strong claim to start ahead of Pepe who replaced Sergio Ramos (injured) in the line-up. The young Frenchman led Madrida s defence and was instrumental in keeping the likes of Raul Garcia and Aritz Aduriz at bay.
No Bale, No Rodriguez, No Problem
Despite the glaring absence of Gareth Bale and James Rodriguez, Real Madrid did not seem to be over dependent on Cristiano Ronaldo, a fact that will go down well with Rafa Benitez. A spirited performance from the likes of Karim Benzema, Luka Modric, Isco, Kovacic and Toni Kroos made up for the injuries as Ronaldo suffered another unsuccessful outing with Madrid.
While Mourinho seemed to be over dependant on a few key players during his reign at Madrid, Carlo Ancelottia s season came apart after certain critical injuries suffered by the team. Rafa Benitez on the other hand, seems to have found a way to win games despite the unavailability of his more reputed players. The Spaniard did not seem to miss his two influential attacking midfielders as he replaced them with the likes of Isco and Mateo Kovacic.
Options Galore At Real Madrid .
The arrival of Casemiro and Kovacic seems to have provided Rafa Benitez with plenty of options with regards to his line-up. The Croatian international was handed his first start against Athletic Bilbao and the midfielder seemed to pass the test with comfortable ease. Confident with the ball, Kovacic was able to make space in the midfield while holding his nerve in tense situations. Casemiro on the other hand helped the team defensively after being deployed late into the game.
However, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric continue to dominate the proceedings in the midfield with the Croatian international particularly taking charge of the game. Defensively strong, both Kroos and Modric ensured that Ronaldo, Benzema and Isco were continuously fed with a steady stream of passes.
It will be interesting to see how Rafa Benitez organizes his team after Gareth Bale and James Rodriguez return from injury. The Welshman is expected to resume his No 10 role with Rodriguez or Isco providing the impetus from the right. The manager also seems keen to exploit Cristiano Ronaldo in a No 9 role and could use the Portuguese in that position sometime later this season as Real Madrid do not have a supporting striker in their ranks. Alternatively, Benitez could also use Jese Rodriguez to fill up for Karim Benzema as and when required.