Thibaut Courtois and Karim Benzema came up clutch as Real Madrid beat Athletic Bilbao 3-1 at the Alfredo Di Stefano Stadium on Tuesday.
Real Madrid started the game brightly, with Lucas Vazquez creating an early chance before they were handed a numerical advantage in the 13th minute when Raul Garcia was sent off for a second bookable offence. However, Los Blancos did not seize their advantage till the stroke of half-time when a Toni Kroos special broke the deadlock and beat the inspired Unai Simon.
Early in the second half, though, Athletic Bilbao equalised against the run of play as Ander Capa scored from close range after having his initial effort saved by Thibaut Courtois. It was all Real Madrid thereafter, as Karim Benzema put them ahead for a second time with a brilliant header before rounding off the win late on.
But, that was not before a big save by Courtois, who denied Mikel Vesga before Benzema finished off a fine move by latching on to Luka Modric’s deft pass. The result took Real Madrid level on points with Atletico Madrid and Real Sociedad, who face Barcelona on Wednesday. The Hard Tackle now runs the rule over Zinedine Zidane’s men.
Thibaut Courtois: 9/10
Amazing Courtois save…
This is Real Madrid
— Real Madrid Analysis (@rmdanalysis) December 15, 2020
Another pivotal performance by Courtois, who made that big save late on to ensure Real Madrid remained narrowly ahead before Karim Benzema scored the late goal. Made a couple of other top stops as well, but was helpless when Ander Capa scored the only Athletic Bilbao goal after being left on his own by the Real Madrid defence. Completed each of the passes he attempted.
Dani Carvajal: 8/10
Another game, another solid display by Carvajal. The Spaniard barely had a hairy moment at the back against Bilbao, winning 4 duels and completing 3 interceptions. Also a constant outlet down the right flank, he provided the assist for Benzema’s first and generally linked up well with Lucas Vazquez. His return has been such a boost for Real Madrid.
Raphael Varane: 7/10
Once again, Varane looked much more at ease with Sergio Ramos by his side. In fact, apart from that one moment when both the central defenders switched off to let Capa score, the Frenchman hardly put a foot wrong and kept a lid on the tricky Inaki Williams’s output. Some of his numbers are quite impressive too – 5/5 aerial duels won, 3 clearances, 2 blocks.
Sergio Ramos: 7/10
Much like Varane, Ramos did some solid work at the back to keep Williams quiet, with 4 aerial duels won, 4 clearances and 3 interceptions. Also created a chance on one of his forays up the pitch. But, the Real Madrid captain too was guilty of being caught out of position when Bilbao scored the equaliser. Solid otherwise.
Ferland Mendy: 7/10
One of those unlucky evenings when Mendy could not go home with an assist. The Frenchman was almost exclusively camped in the Bilbao half, linking up superbly with the likes of Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Vinicius Jr. while also playing a couple of key passes. At the back, Mendy was hardly troubled by Oscar de Marcos. Misplaced just one pass all game.
Federico Valverde: 6.5/10
Back into the starting lineup for the first time since recovering from a fractured leg, Valverde was understandably some way off his top levels. Surprisingly installed in an advanced midfield role, the Uruguayan international did take up some dangerous positions and created one brilliant chance. However, on other occasions, he found himself drifting out of the game. Little steps forward.
Toni Kroos: 8.5/10
📊| Toni Kroos vs Athletic Club:
• 105 touches.
• 87/90 passes completed (97%).
• 4/6 long balls completed.
• 3 crosses completed.
• 1 key pass.
• 2/2 ground duels won.
• 3 shots.
• 1 great goal.
— RM4Albanian (@RM4Albanian) December 15, 2020
Real Madrid’s orchestrator was close to his best on the night, hardly misplacing a pass while linking up smartly with those ahead of him. For much of the game, Kroos acted as a deep lying playmaker, executing those duties to perfection. However, it was his goal that eased the pressure off Real Madrid when Unai Simon seemed to be in inspired form; and what a brilliant finish it was.
Luka Modric: 8/10
He may be into his 36th year, but the tireless Modric is showing no signs of stopping. The Croat, featuring in a 25th successive game, was typically purposeful when charging up the pitch and stitched together the 3 key passes on the night. One of those resulted in Benzema’s second as Real Madrid secured their win. Otherwise, he put a shift in off the ball while being ingenious on it.
Lucas Vazquez: 7/10
Stationed on the right wing yet again, Lucas Vazquez started the game brightly and set up a fine early chance that was not converted. Thereafter, he set about dominating the right flank along with Carvajal, with the duo linking up superbly to create some dangerous openings. Indispensable in this form.
Karim Benzema: 9/10
Benzema produced a delightful touch with his back early in the game and that was a sign of things to come, as he was constantly in business higher up the pitch. Drifted wide at times to create space for his teammates and delivered one key pass. However, his two late goals stole the show, with the Frenchman rising to the occasion yet again for Real Madrid. Simply sensational, is Benzema.
— LaLiga English (@LaLigaEN) December 15, 2020
Vinicius Jr.: 7/10
Not the most memorable of evenings for Vinicius, who was fortunate to not be booked for a dive in the first half but also unlucky to not win a penalty for a handball. Thought he had scored a goal too, only to be pulled back for offside. Involved a great deal otherwise, the Brazilian played the most key passes on the night (4) and might have grabbed an assist or two on another day.
Marco Asensio: 6.5/10
On for Vinicius, Asensio displayed some nice touches and linked up well with Benzema and Modric. However, after a bright start, his cameo faded and he was hardly involved late on.
Isco was introduced in place of Valverde and was a reliable presence on the pitch. The Spaniard, whose future at Real Madrid is as uncertain as it has ever been, completed each of his 32 attempted passes while also putting in the hard yards off it.
Rodrygo Goes: N/A
On for the final 15 minutes, Rodrygo did not see much of the ball, although he still managed to create a half-chance.