El Centrocampista



With some particularly impressive performances in what has been a run of fantastic form for Athletic Club, it was league leaders Real Madrid at the weekend for Marcelo Bielsa’s men.

Confidence surrounded the club ahead of the game, and with good reason.

Only two losses in the last 24 games is some achievement, not only that but Bielsa had tightened up the defence with clean sheets in the six games prior to the Madrid match.

However, everyone at the club recognised the difficulty of the task, especially when looking back over the recent record against Real Madrid. The 1-0 win in 2010 aside, 11 of the last 12 meetings have ended in defeat for Athletic Club. Not the kind of form that inspires.

However, with Real Madrid experiencing some considerable distractions in the build-up, some were hoping that surprise could occur. Another titanic battle – and loss – in the first-leg of the Copa del Rey tie against Barcelona, the subsequent fall-out including the furore over Pepe’s alleged stamp on Messi and reports that Mourinho had fallen out with certain members of his squad – not the ideal situation before the game.

However, this is Real Madrid – they didn’t stop being a sensationally talented side.

Despite the controversy surround them, Real Madrid ended up coming from behind to secure a 4-1 victory over 10-man Athletic Bilbao at the Bernabeu, restoring their five-point lead over Barcelona.

Fernando Llorente continued his goal-scoring form, giving Athletic Club an early lead, but second-half goals from Marcelo, Ronaldo – from two penalties – and Jose Callejon turned the contest into a relatively routine win for Madrid.

The Basque’s, buoyed by recent form, took the game to the home side. Quick, sharp attacks troubled Madrid in the early stages and it was no surprise when Llorente game them the lead in the 13th minute.

A swift counter-attack began with Herrera finding a Javi Martinez, who had burst forward from defence – highlighting the extent of Athletic Club’s commitment to the sweeping counter-attack. Martinez put in a perfect cross from the right-hand side which was met by the in-form Llorente who hit it perfectly on the volley.

The Bernabeu was silenced, in fact the only noise coming from the home fans was in derision of their own team and Mourinho. The away side could have gone two-up had De Marcos not scuffed his effort wide after Iker Muniain’s shot was parried by Casillas.7

Madrid finally found their feet and levelled the score through a well-taken goal by Marcelo in the 25th minute. The Brazilian full-back played a neat exchange with Ronaldo before bursting into the area and curling the ball past Iraizoz.

Much to the credit of Athletic, they did not falter as soon as the equaliser went in. The usual, inevitable comeback from Madrid showed no signs of occurring in the first-half. It was the away side that threatened to take the lead before hal-time – and probably should have – through Llorente, who shot wide in a one-on-one with Casillas.

After all the fantastic play in the first-half, Athletic had all their work undone within seconds of the restart. Iturraspe was caught on the wrong side of Kaka and dragged the Brazilian to the ground, giving Madrid a penalty that Ronaldo predictably hit home emphatically. 2-1 – and the game changed drastically.

The points were destined for Madrid when Ozil was taken down by De Marcos, giving them a second penalty and red card for the Spaniard. Once again, Ronaldo stepped up to take the penalty and finished confidently to make it 3-1.

The sending off ended the game as a contest and, although Madrid were average for long spells of the match, they now had a man advantage and looked to extend their lead. In the end, they only added one more after some desperate defending from Athletic before Callejon hit the fourth goal.

The result was a huge shame for Athletic, particularly after they had started the game so well. Even when Madrid managed to take the lead, Bielsa’s side still looked like they could get something out of the game.

The hope is that the result, disappointing though it was, will not affect the confidence that has built up within the club over the past few weeks. They will need to bounce back quickly if they are to keep challenging for Champions League football.

Looking at it positively, Athletic did trouble Madrid – the league leaders – for large spells and even looked like getting a win at times. Plus, Llorente scored again to keep up his return to form.

Last night’s 1-0 Copa del Rey victory at Mallorca will not have done any harm either, winning the two legged tie 3-0 on aggregate to progress to a moral boosting semi final against this year’s surprise package, Mirandes,

It is the league, and Champions League qualification that los Leones are focused on however and the message from Bielsa will be clear – put the Bernabeu disappointment behind them and re-focus on this weekend’s game at Rayo Vallecano.

One Comment

  1. Iain McMullen

    26 January, 2012 at 09:50

    Athletic were fantastic in the first half at the Bernabeu and should have gone in at the break two up – Llorente’s miss was a shocker and most unlike him.

    The early second half goal and red card were a killer but credit to Bielsa’s men, they still kept plugging forward and should have had a penalty of their own (and a red card for Ramos).

    A very harsh scoreline in the end, but they can certainly take heart from the performance – things won’t happen overnight under Bielsa especially as they’ve adapted their whole way of playing.

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