Revista de La Liga: The Battle of Bilbao leaves Real Madrid ruing a missed opportunity

La Liga

San Mames, Bilbao – On a cold and wet Basque evening, Real Madrid failed to score for a second consecutive La Liga away match. Zinedine Zidane fielded the same starting eleven as the one that started the Champions League final in Cardiff against Juventus – on that occasion Madrid got four goals, on Saturday they got none. “I’m not worried, I’m disappointed for the players,” Zidane admitted when asked whether he was concerned about the lack of goals after the match. “We worked well, but the ball didn’t want to go in. Playing in this fashion the goals are going to come.” The goalless draw at San Mames meant that Los Blancos couldn’t cut the gap between themselves and league leaders Barcelona.

It was a frustrating night for Real Madrid – chances were created but not finished. The burden on Ronaldo and Benzema’s shoulders gets ever greater. Ramos received his customary red card – a yellow in the first fifteen minutes and a second late in the match for an elbow to the face of Aritz Aduriz – that means he will be absent for the match against Sevilla; a match that many see as a must win.

Athletic have had problems of their own this season – Cuco Ziganda’s side have won only three La Liga matches, their last being against Sevilla in mid-October. It was never going to be easy for Ziganda, trying to fill the void that Ernesto Valverde left both in terms of tactical and managerial intelligence and being an ambassador for the club and region.

Athletic pride themselves on being a club like no other – their identity is paramount – they manage to combine indigenous sustainability with ambition. Their policy is strict but clear; if you’re not from the Basque Country, or have heritage based therein, you won’t play for us. Some say this holds Athletic back from being a bigger name in Spanish and European football – whilst this is a constraint, it is also a force that increases the togetherness of the club and community. It requires people to do their jobs and do them properly – there’s no money involved to mask the true picture.

The coaches and players based in the local leagues feed Athletic – if they don’t deliver, the first-team suffers. Yet this is a club that has housed many a talent, Antonio Zubizarreta, Ander Herrera, Javi Martinez, and Aitor Karanka to name a couple. Current players Inaki Williams, Iker Muniain, and Kepa are all impressing whilst Aritz Aduriz – a legend in the eyes of many of Los Leones fans – will be allowed to play for the club for as long as he wishes.

Regular participation in European competitions and usually reaching the latter stages of the Copa del Rey is a credit to the way things are done at Athletic. The new San Mames stadium was opened in 2013 – albeit only over the road from their old stadium, it was a sign of the clubs progression and growth – and I can vouch that it is an impressive modern structure. During construction, in a typically symbolic display, a piece of turf and a brick were removed from the old stadium and carried to the adjacent construction site by a human chain including famous players as well as members of the youth system, the women’s team, the reserve team, and its oldest and youngest registered supporters.

And it was in this new Catedral that Real Madrid battled with Athletic to cut the gap at the top of the table. The first chance of the match fell to Benzema in the 10th minute – Ronaldo burst forward from deep to play in Isco whose whipped cross was chested down and rattled against the post by Benzema. Despite Real’s early attacking flurry, Athletic did have chances of their own – Benzema causing problems in his own defence by sloppily playing a ball across the Madrid penalty area to the feet of the grateful Mikel Rico who failed to make space for the shot.

Inaki Williams – a player who has impressed for awhile but never completely fulfilled his potential – had Athletic’s best chance of the first-half, receiving the ball on the end of a neat one-two from Raul Garcia and striking low across Keylor Navas, only to be denied by a fingertip save from the goalkeeper who was starting his match since the beginning of October.

Aduriz had a clear sight of goal for Athletic at the start of the second-half – Navas again did well to deny the powerful strike from the evergreen striker. The rain turned heavier and the tackles got heftier. The Basques were standing strong and the crowd loved it. Both of Real’s strikers had another evening to forget although Ronaldo did come desperately close to winning it for Real – the ball dropped over his shoulder but he fired his volley against the base of the post. Ramos’s red card increased the sense of frustration amongst the travelling Madridistas who face tough tests in the coming weeks against Sevilla and Barcelona either side of their trip to Abu Dhabi for the Club World Cup. The battle had been hard fought and the Basque crowd, as ever, appreciated the effort. A banner had been unfurled prior to kick-off in the North end of San Mames, ‘The victory is ours’ it read – in Bilbao more so than anywhere else that is certainly the case.

Los Otros Puntos

  • There were a few unexpected turns at the Camp Nou on Saturday. Juan Carlos Unzue, Barcelona assistant manager last season but Celta Vigo manager this, headed for the away dressing room and it was his current side who took the lead. Iago Aspas netted from a rebound in the 20th minute but Celta’s lead only lasted for two minutes as Leo Messi was played in after a Luis Suarez-Paulinho one-two and the Argentine tucked the ball neatly underneath Ruben Blanco. Suarez – who has struggled both in terms of goals and sharpness this season – looked to have given the hosts the lead just a minute later but, having been played clean through by Messi, he was adjudged to have been offside despite Pione Sisto looking to be level with him. Barcelona were in the ascendancy – Messi hit the post, Paulinho was denied from point-blank range by Blanco. It took just fifteen minutes into the second-half for Barca to take the lead – Jordi Alba, the saviour last weekend in Valencia, was afforded too much time on the left to pass the ball onto an unmarked Suarez who got his sixth league goal of the season. Celta, however, flourished on the counter and in the 70th minute Aspas raced away from an injured Samuel Umtiti to lay off Maxi Gomez for the equaliser.
  • Valencia’s unbeaten start to the season came to an end at the Coliseum. A defiant, 10-man Getafe side withstood Valencia’s late chances – including a Zaza header over the bar and a mighty goalmouth scramble – to send Los Che to their first defeat of the season. Valencia were far from their best and few would begrudge Getafe of the victory even if Bergara’s goal did get a deflection that wrong-footed Neto in goal.
  • Atletico Madrid did what city rivals Real couldn’t – pounce on Barcelona’s dropped points and cut the gap. But it was Real Sociedad who took a 28th-minute lead when Jan Oblak brought down Mikel Oyarzabal. Willian Jose converted from the spot to score in four consecutive matches for the first time, but Atletico levelled when Saul Niguez set up Filipe Luis after 62 minutes. Atletico pressed for a winner and it came three minutes from time – Saul again the provider as Antoine Griezmann stroked home his fourth goal in three games.
  • Pako Ayestaran left Gran Canaria and headed back to his home on the Wirral in midweek, coincidently – or should that be consequently – Las Palmas got their first La Liga win in two and a half months when they faced former manager Quique Setien’s Real Betis.
  • Leganes brought their four-match losing streak to an end by coming from behind to beat Villarreal at Butarque.

Los Resultados 

Malaga 0–0 Levante

Barcelona 2–2 Celta Vigo

Atletico Madrid 2–1 Real Sociedad

Sevilla 2–1 Deportivo

Athletic Bilbao 0–0 Real Madrid

Leganes 3–1 Villarreal

Getafe 1–0 Valencia

Eibar 3–1 Espanyol

Las Palmas 1–0 Real Betis

Girona – Alaves to be played on Monday

El Jugador de la Semana: Markel Bergara (Getafe)

La Clasificacion