Monday, January 23, 2012

Real Madrid - Athletic Bilbao: 4-1: Another Remontada

Venue: Estadio Santiago Bernabeu
Gameweek: 19

Starting Line-ups:

Screen-cap from:

So I start off this review by inserting a cheesy build up here where I lie and add how Real Madrid bounced back from the Clasico defeat and rallied after being 0-1 down in 13 minutes to win the match 4-1, blah blah blah. Truth is, I don't consider this as bouncing back from the 1-2 defeat at home because apparently the Clasico is another ball-game for Real Madrid since last season, and the problems of the Clasico are the problems of the Clasico. Anyway we are not here to discuss about the Clasico we are here to discuss about the attitude that has been missing from the Clasico, that attitude of not losing hope and winning matches despite going a goal down.

Everyone knew this match wasn't going to be easy especially when the away team were on a six match unbeaten run in all tournaments and hadn't conceded a single goal in those six games either. And it started off that way, aside from a tame shot from Granero with his left foot and a cross by Marcelo that was spilled by Gorkha Iraizoz, Real Madrid hadn't done anything of note before Athletic broke on the counter and Javi Martinez's cross was brilliantly turned in with his right foot by Fernando Llorente.

Before Real Madrid had woken up and scored the goal, quite a few interesting things happened in the game. Granero was in his "If I score a goal I will get noticed" mode and had taken three shots (all on target but fairly tame)—the only three shots that were on target for Real Madrid in that time-frame. Kaka hit the side netting. Cristiano crossed and created the same situation from which Llorente scored but Benzema who was on the end of this cross made an absolute mess of the finish.

Then it happened; De Marcos was freed up by a sweet chipped pass from Iker Muniain after he had sucked in every defender and even Iker Casillas. De Marcos had the goal at his mercy. But he misses, he misses in front of an open goal, giving Real Madrid a lifeline. Real Madrid finally woke up, Marcelo came charging down in attack, played the final one-two with Benzema, found his way in the box and slotted home brilliantly with his left foot to equalize.

The game became more interesting after Real Madrid equalized and it became a fairly eventful match. Both the teams exchanging attacks, attacking and countering each other, was fun to watch.

Mesut Özil turned on his silky skills and was causing trouble for Athletic, even got De Marcos booked for pulling him down after getting nutmegged. Kaka too had brought his A-game, even made a Zidane-esque rouletta turn and was a constant source of headaches for the Athletic defense with his runs. Fernando Llorente missed a glorious opportunity to put Athletic 1-2 up. Kaka brought down in the box, a definite penalty but not given. Iker hurting himself after coming out from the box, covering for his defenders were some of the events before the referee called for half-time.

The match restarted for the second half and inside 35 seconds Kaka had won a penalty for Real Madrid, Ituraspe bringing the Brazilian down. Cristiano Ronaldo stepped up and slotted the ball in the left-corner, Iraizoz despite guessing the right direction was never going to stop that, and Real Madrid were now in the lead 2-1.

This was not the first time Real Madrid had taken the lead after going a goal down in a match, the qualities are all there, that amazing attitude that despite going a goal down they keep coming at the opposition like a machine until they win. And that was it, Real Madrid never looked back after taking the lead.

Granero had finally settled down and was doing the right things instead of taking shots from distance, he was winning the ball back and distributing it immediately and effectively, even started a counter after winning the ball back and had an decent game, even looked solid defensively—which is not his playing style mind you. Granero had a total of 42 touches in the game, completed 28 passes with 96% accuracy—highest in the match.

At the 61 minute mark, Fernando Llorente was taken off for Toquero (reason being that Fernando was just back from injury). The big man was a constant threat and was causing Raphael Varane all sorts of problems, even Sergio Ramos had difficulty dealing with Llorente sometimes but he managed to control Llorente. After Llorente was taken off I heaved a huge sigh of relief, I knew then that Athletic Bilbao will be easier to tame. No disrespect to young Iker Muniain who had a brilliant game but Fernando Llorente was the real goal threat, with him off I was fairly confident no one could score against Real Madrid, and what do you know it turned out just like that.

It had only been a few minutes since Fernando Llorente was taken off, Real Madrid hit on the counter, Mesut Özil was one on one with the goalkeeper and was hacked down in the box by De Marcos. Benzema slotted in the the ball but the whistle had been blown, no advantage played and a penalty was given. De Marcos who was already on a yellow was shown the red and rightly so. Athletic Bilbao down to 10 men and looking at the possibility of going two goals down.

As usual, Cristiano steps up to take the penalty, and sends Iraizoz the wrong way this time, 3-1 it is, game over surely. Just after the goal Karim Benzema—who didn't have such a good game.....who am I kidding, he was poor in the game, his finishing and final ball were all off, was fairly invisible too; was subbed off for Gonzalo Higuain.

Gonzalo Higuain had an amazing chance to put Real Madrid 4-1 up after he had rounded Gorkha Iraizoz but hit the post after some brilliant covering by the Athletic defense who had recovered well by covering the goal and leaving very little space for Gonzalo Higuain to aim at from a tight angle.

Lassana Diarra who was brought in to replace Granero had a truly awful game after coming on, Muniain made a complete fool of him. Muniain nutmegged, bridged and always got past Lass too easily. Lassana Diarra had a sparring with Toquero too, where he kicked Toquero with the ball nowhere near, Toquero did kick him first but this is no way to react, if the referee had seen that, it would have been a red card.

Aside from a wonderful Özil backheel in the box, a remarkable run from Marcelo down the left wing, and stallion like run from Sergio Ramos from the center of defense, nothing else is worth reporting before the Callejon goal five minutes from time.

Real Madrid had hit on another counter, Özil to Higuain who played a sensational ball from near the halfway line to Callejon who slotted home from a very very tight angle after his first touch was a little heavy (deliberate perhaps to beat the defender on pace). And that was that, 4-1, three points in the bag.

The scoreline might be a bit too harsh on Athletic Bilbao as they weren't really as bad as the scoreline who will probably be thinking what if they hadn't missed their chances. But in all honesty the three points were completely deserved by Real Madrid who created clear chances and took them. A good morale boosting victory, just what was needed after the depressing week.

Hala Madrid!


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