Álavaro Morata was the hero for a wasteful Real Madrid, coming on in the second half to bag the winner against a stubborn Athletic Bilbao.
Madrid took an early lead at a rain-soaked Bernabéu after good work from Isco set up Karim Benzema for an easy tap in on seven minutes, only for Bilbao to hit a deserved equaliser through Merino mid-way through the first half.
The home side should have gone into the interval leading the scoreboard, however Ronaldo failed to square to Benzema on 44 minutes and instead chose to go alone when a pass would have been the better option. The Bilbao keeper read the striker's intention and the chance was lost when he got down low to block Ronaldo's tame effort.
After the break, Real Madrid struggled to make the breakthrough as Bilbao dropped back and looked to catch Zidane's side out on the counter, which they almost did through Iñaki Williams, only for him to fire over with only Navas to beat.
Los Blancos main threat was Gareth Bale, who switched to the left flank in the second period. The Welshman was also guilty of wastefulness though when played in over the top by Toni Kroos. Instead of laying off to the unmarked Ronaldo, Bale decided to hit it first time and sent the ball well wide.
Morata the hero
However, Bale made up for that mistake a few moments later, putting in delightful ball for substitute Álavro Morata, who replaced the largely ineffective Benzema on 75 minutes, to poke home Madrid's second.
The Spaniard needed to bites at the cherry when his initial effort was saved low by Iraizoz, but he managed to pounce on the rebound and smash home with just five minutes to go, sending Madrid top of La Liga.
As it happened:
Full time: Real Madrid 2-1 Athletic Bilbao
96 mins | The whistle goes, and Morata saves the day!
95 mins | Ronaldo....has to be...but no! Vazquez plays him clean through and he just has Iraizoz to beat but he fires it straight at the keeper. CR7 drops his head, story of his night!
94 mins | YELLOW! Carvajal booked for chopping down Laporte
90 mins | 4 minutes added
87 mins | Chance Bilbao! Iñaki Wlliams is clean through for the second time tonight, and once again he can't convert. This time he tries to scoop it over Navas but the keeper is savvy and gets a hand to it leaving Varane to hack away. Should have been the equalizer!
82 mins | GOOOOOOOOOOAL! Morata! This man is turning in to quite the super sub! Bale makes up for his wastefulness minutes earlier by laying it on a plate for Morata. The Spaniard needs two bites at the cherry as his first effort is blocked by the keeper but he tucks in the rebound and the Bernabéu goes wild!
78 mins | MADRID SUB! Susaeta on for Sabin.
77 mins | Chance! Kroos's ball over the top picks out Bale. Ronaldo is waiting to tap it in on the penalty spot but the Welshman gets caught in two minds over whether to shoot or cross and he ends up going neither here nor there and hits it well wide. Poor!
76 mins | BILBAO SUB: Bilbao make their first change as Iturraspe replaces Garcia.
75 mins | MADRID SUB: Zidane swaps Benzema with Morata for the final 15
74 mins | The whistles are out at the Bernabéu! And they seem to be directed especially at Ronaldo of all people. He has been well off par tonight and the famously hard-to-please Madrid faithful are letting their frustrations be known.
71 mins | Chance! Bale causing havoc down the left! He has just too much pace for Martinez and races clear. He looks up and can see Ronaldo lurking in the area but his cross is too high. Vazquez picks it up at the far post and cuts back to Kovacic whose header from 12 yards bounces millimetres wide!
69 mins | Athletic dealing with Real Madrid quite comfortably here. They're getting plenty of men behind the ball and looking to catch the home-side on the break.
66 mins | Bale threatens again down the left and his in-swinger finds Cristiano Ronaldo. The striker volleys over, however. That came at him quickly and he just couldn't quite adjust his feet in time to direct it on target.
65 mins | MADRID SUB: Vazquez comes on for Isco
64 mins | Real Madrid have hardly threatened this half and Zidane looks to change things up. Vazquez is warming up...
59 mins | Benzema is found at the back post by Isco. The Frenchman headers down but Iraizoz is there on the line to catch it. Decent chance that but Benzema couldn't generate enough power to trouble the keeper.
56 mins | Bilbao have a corner and Kelyor Navas flaps at the delivery punching straight into the path of Rico on the edge of the area. The midfielder slices it over the bar though.
54 mins | YELLOW! Garcia gets booked for an elbow in the back of Bale.
50 mins | Iñaki Williams! Pepe lets the ball run past him and he doesn't see the Bilbao striker lurking in behind. Williams is clean through but he decides to hit it first time and can only smash the ball over when he at the very least should have hit the target. Massive let off for Real!
48 mins | Bale, having switched to the left at the end of the first half, remains there and he's causing all sort of problems down that flank. He's too much pace for Martinez again and looks to find Benzema with a lofted cross but Laporte gets in front and headers clear.
47 mins | Marcelo, who's put in a few decent deliveries tonight, doesn't do so well with that one. His cross sails into at least Row F there when he had plenty to aim for in the box.
46 mins | Peeeeeep! We're back underway.
Half time: Real Madrid 1-1 Athletic Bilbao
A very well contested first 45 comes to an end and it's even-Stevens on the scoreboard, and you'd probably say that's a fair reflection of the game so far. Real Madrid have had the better chances, with a notable couple of missed opportunities involving Ronaldo, but Bilbao have created their fair share too and made it a rather uncomfortable half for the home side. This could go either way, you know...
Real Madrid 1-1 Athletic Bilbao: Live 1st Half
45 mins | The whistle goes for half time.
44 mins ! Oh dear Ronaldo! He's set free down the right, skips over Laporte, and breaks into the box. He looks up and sees a screaming Benzema and Isco who just for a moment look free to tap in! But no, he decides to go it alone and slide the ball under the keeper from an angle, but Iraizoz gets down well and the chance is wasted. That was more than a little selfish from CR7...
42 mins | Close! Bale switches to the left and puts the afterburners on to sprint clear into the box past Martinez. He pulls back to Ronaldo and it's looks a certain goal.....but no! Laporte slides in at the last moment and takes it off his foot! That was heroic defending!
40 mins | Carvajal tries one from the right edge of the area but his effort is weak and Iraizoz gathers at his near post with ease.
37 mins | Vital interception there from Laporte as Marcelo's teasing ball very nearly finds Ronaldo on the penalty spot. The touch from the defender just took it out of Ronaldo's stride, otherwise that would been a clear chance for the Portuguese striker.
34 mins | Bilbao have their tales up here and they are pushing for a second. They're almost gifted an opportunity too as the ball hits Toni Kroos high on the arm in the area. It would have been harsh on the German but you've seen pens given for that.
31 mins | YELLOW! Etxeita picks up the first booking of the game for high feet. Ronaldo slams the resulting freekick against the wall.
29 mins | Real Madrid respond almost immediately as Bale's powerful effort tests Iraizoz from 25 yards. It's a little too close to the keeper though and he palms away.
27 mins | GOOOOOAL ATHLETIC! Merino!!!! Bilbao break forward down the right and the ball is played in to Lekue. Pepe though can't deal with the danger and Lekue pulls it back for the unmarked Merino who takes a touch before smashing in low under Keylor. Some shoddy defending their from the Portuguese centre-back.
25 mins | This rain is really putting a dampener on the pace of affairs here. With the torrential downfall that the Spanish capital has received over the past 24 hours the ball is being considerably slowed down by water on the surface.
23 mins | Bale gives the ball away in a dangerous area and it opens up for Raul Garcia. His effort on goal is wayward though and the chance is gone for Bilbao.
19 mins | Now it's Ronaldo's turn to squander a good opportunity. He decides to go it alone when it looked more prudent to square it to Bale. His curling effort goes high into the stands after he'd controlled well in the box.
18 mins | Chance Athletic! Oh, Merino should have done much better there. In fact it should be the equaliser. He heads over unmarked from 5 yards out. Poor miss!
16 mins | Bale heads just over! He started the move with a lovely cross field ball to Benzema, who played in Marcelo, and the Brazilian's cross was just a little too high for the Welshman.
14 mins | Rather unsurprisingly in these wet conditions, both teams are finding it difficult to hold on to the ball. It's all a little bit scrappy at the moment.
12 mins | Carvajal's cross from the right is blocked and it goes out for a Real Madrid corner. Bilbao get first head to Kroos' delivery and its well cleared.
9 mins | Cristiano shoots just wide from outside the box. Madrid looking in the mood here. I tell you what, this soaking wet surface is going to really test both keepers tonight.
7 mins | GOOOOOOOOAL MADRID. Benzema! A long ball from Marcelo finds Isco, he takes it past Saborit who slips at the crucial moment, and the Malagan cuts back to Benzema who slides it in from 6 yards.
6 mins | Save Navas! Iñaki Williams fizzes a shot in, it skids off the turf and Keylor gets down well to parry away for a corner!
4 mins | Zidane's blazer is already wet as an otter's pocket, bless him. He doesn't look fazed at all though. Isco over hits his pass there as Real looked to go forward.
2 mins | The rain is absolutely lashing down! An unusual sight in Madrid. Could that benefit Bilbao (it's a lot wetter up North!)?. They win the first corner, but it's dealt with.
0 mins | Peeeeeeeeeep! We're underway at the Bernabéu.
Real Madrid - Athletic Bilbao: team lineups
Real Madrid XI: Navas; Carvajal, Pepe, Varane, Marcelo; Kroos, Kovacic, Isco; Bale, Ronaldo, Benzema.
Athletic XI: Iraizoz; Lekue, Etxeita, Laporte, Saborit; San Jose, M.Rico; R.Garcia, Merino, Eraso, I.Williams.
Real Madrid - Athletic Bilbao: latest news
20:42 | Here come the players...
20:35 | A reminder that tonight's referee is Ignacio Iglesias Villanueva. Let's hope that's the last we hear that name tonight...not like what happened yesterday.
20:30 | 15 minutes till kick-off! The players have finished their warmups and gone back to the dressing rooms for a final team-talk and perhaps just one last look in the mirror (not pointing any fingers).
20:25 | Away from LaLiga for one moment, and the fallout from Manchester United's 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Chelsea has begun. Everyone's focusing on what José Mourinho said to Antonio Conté after the game. Cunning move from Mou? All the talk is about that incident and not so much United's dire performance...
20:15 | An update on LaLiga standings after Sevilla's win over Atletico earlier today. The Andalusian side are currently top, Barça second, and Atleti third. A win tonight though for Madrid would put them top.
20:10 | The teams are out (see above) and the big news for Madrid is that Zidane starts with Benzema in front of Morata. Elsewhere, Isco and Kovacic come in for James and Asensio. Bilbao have made a total of five changes from the derby against Real Sociedad, with Ínigo Lekue Martinez, Xabier Etxeita, Mikel San Jose, Javier Eraso Goni and Sabin Merino Zuloaga all coming into the side.
19:49 | Did you know that the father of Real Madrid's young star Asensio wanted his son to play for tonight's opponents Athletic Club de Bilbao?
19:06 | Kevin Prince Boateng has just scored a belter for Las Palmas. Here's hoping for a few more in our live game. If so, Aled will describe them in infinitesimal detail for your reading pleasure.
18:38 | If Zidane can't find the right words to inspire his troops at half time, maybe he'll get Cristiano to give one of his a rousing speeches.
17:22 | Real Madrid president Florentino Pérez has been speaking to the club's AGM and made reference to ex-coach Rafa Benitez.
16:33 | The good news for fans who like to stay dry is that Madrid will soon have the option to close the roof on nights like this. Soon-ish anyyway.
16:05 | Quick weather update: just stuck hand out of the window. It's wet! Not likely to change ahead of kick-off either.
15:21 | As is always the case, eyes are firmly focused on Cristiano ahead of a Madrid game. We spoke to some footballing tourists outside the Bernabéu who expect their favourite number 7 to end this count today. They've come so far and really want to see him celebrate.
14:48 | Wanting to watch the action while you follow our chat? Look no further.
14:02 | As you may know, there are no midweek fixtures in Spain for the coming week but Madrid have brought forward their Copa del Rey tie which will see them in action against Cultural Leonesa. Ticket prices have been one of the talking points.
13:08 | This evening's game will be officiated by Iglesias Villanueva. The Galician ref has overseen 11 Real Madrid games, in which Los Blancos have won nine and drawn two, and 12 Athletic matches, with the Basque side winning four, losing three and drawing five.
11:30 | Real Madrid will be well aware of the importance of three points today, particularly in view of the fact city neighbours Atlético face a sticky tie against fourth-placed Sevilla. According to Simeone, Sampaoli's side are also in the mix for this year's LaLiga title.
10:10 | If you've got a strange hunch about this game why not see if it's in harmony with the AS Oracle. Our in-house prophet rode out every possible emotion in Barcelona's tight, last-minute win yesterday but, like Luis Enrique's men, finally came out on top. You too can punch the air with joy or slump back down in your chair with our Week 9 La Liga predictions.
09:03 | Real Madrid come into this game knowing that one of their biggest rivals, Barcelona, came through a tough challenge with three points last night. Their other expected title contender will have played before they take to the field as Atlético travel down to Sevilla this afternoon.
Real Madrid – Athletic Bilbao: match preview
Just three points separate the sides as Real Madrid face Athletic Club at the Bernabéu on Sunday evening. Madrid know that a win could see them go top of La Liga if Atletico fail to beat Sevilla in the day’s big top-four showdown. Athletic, meanwhile, know that an away victory could lift themselves into the Champions League positions.
Zinedine Zidane’s side go into this game having returned to form and buoyed by big wins against Betis (in their last LaLiga encounter) and Legia Warsaw in the Champions League in midweek. Prior to the win in Seville, Madrid’s good start to the season had taken a serious wobble, drawing three consecutive league games, while doubts surrounded the fitness and form of their normally prolific BBC frontline.
Cristiano Ronaldo though is back amongst the goals and looking more like himself following a slow start to the campaign. With fellow forward Karim Benzema still not firing on all cylinders, however, calls to put Álvaro Morata into the starting lineup are growing ever louder. Whether Zidane keeps faith with the Frenchman or gives Morata his well-earned opportunity remains to be seen.
Three vital first-team players Madrid will definitely have to do without are Casmiro, Luka Modric and Sergio Ramos who are all still sidelined by respective injuries.
Ernesto Valverde has formed a very competitive side in recent seasons, with enough talent running through the team to beat virtually anyone when they hit top form (as Barcelona discovered in last year’s Spanish Supercup). The Lions come to the Spanish capital on the back of an impressive victory in the Basque derby where they completely dismantled Real Sociedad in the second half to get a first win in the local matchup since 2012.
Getting one over on Real Madrid, however, always comes a close second to success in their regional showdown and Athletic will be keen not to let their poor displays in the Europa League affect a good run of form in the domestic league. It is worth noting, mind you, that Athletic haven't come away with three points from the Bernabeu since 2005.
On Sunday, Real Madrid will have to deal with Valverde's preferred 4-2-3-1, which often gives all sorts of problems to many defences in Spain, with Muniain and Williams working together to create space for Aduriz and Raul Garcia's trademark darts into the area.
Real Madrid – Athletic Bilbao: possible starting team line-ups
Real Madrid XI: Keylor Navas; Marcelo, Varane, Pepe, Carvajal; Isco, Kross, Kovacic; Cristiano, Benzema, Bale.
Athletic Bilbao XI: Iraizoz; Lekue, Laporte, Yeray, Bóveda, Iturraspe, San José, Muniain, Raúl García, Williams, Aduriz.