Athletic Bilbao 0-0 Real Madrid: match report
Real Madrid missed the chance to gain ground on La Liga leaders Barcelona as they drew 0-0 at struggling Athletic Bilbao on Saturday despite hitting the woodwork twice, while their captain Sergio Ramos was sent off for the 24th time in his career.
Barcelona's 2-2 draw at Celta Vigo offered Real the chance to cut their deficit with the Catalans to six points. They nearly got off to the ideal start against Athletic when Karim Benzema chested down an Isco cross, but the Frenchman fired against the post.
Athletic went into the game 16th in the standings and reeling from a shock King's Cup defeat to tiny Formentera but the Basques upped their game with the help of the raucous home support.
Real goalkeeper Keylor Navas had to make two vital saves in the first half from Athletic forwards Aritz Aduriz and Inkai Williams after being highly questioned for his performance against Fuenlabrada on Tuesday.
Down the other end, Athletic custodian Kepa Arrizabalaga showed why he keeps on being linked with a move to Madrid, making a double save in the second half to thwart Marcelo and then Cristiano Ronaldo, who hit the post after the interval.
The usually prolific Portuguese has only two league goals this season and has failed to score in any of his five visits to Athletic's San Mames stadium since it was rebuilt in 2013.
Ramos returned to action wearing a protective mask after two weeks out with a broken nose and picked up an early booking for elbowing Raul Garcia, earning a second with four minutes remaining to earn a record-extending 19th red card in La Liga.
Real are fourth in the standings on 28 points, eight behind leaders Barca, two off third-placed Atletico and three from second-placed Valencia, who visit Getafe on Sunday.
Athletic Bilbao vs Real Madrid live stream online: as it happened
Athletic Bilbao vs Real Madrid: LaLiga match preview
Athletic host the reigning champions at San Mamés with José Ángel Ziganda under a fair bit of pressure with his side languishing in 16th in LaLiga and knocked out of their favourite competition, the Copa del Rey, by third-tier Formentera in midweek.
The Lions’ new stadium has not been a particularly happy hunting ground for Saturday’s visitors, who have won two of the four games between the sides since Athletic inaugurated their new home in 2013. The new San Mamés also holds the distinction of being one of very few stadiums to have defied Cristiano Ronaldo, who has not scored there in four attempts and was sent off in 2013-14 in his first visit, to the delight of the home support.
The match has a little added interest in the form of Athletic keeper Kepa Arrizabalaga, who has emerged as a potential target for Real Madrid in the oft-discussed position of number one, although Zinedine Zidane refused to be drawn on the subject in his pre-match press conference.
Ernesto Valverde is enjoying a splendid 2017-18 season on two fronts. Not only is the former Athletic boss leading Barcelona on an unbeaten run of 20 games in all competitions since the campaign started in earnest, but his alchemy at San Mamés in his four seasons in charge is being cast in an ever more favourable light by the struggles of his successor. If everything Valverde touched in Bilbao turned to gold, Ziganda is having quite the opposite effect.
The Athletic boss has not exacted a smooth succession at San Mamés and despite a few encouraging performances the consistency that Valverde’s side displayed has been lacking this season. At this stage in the previous campaign Athletic were eight places and seven points better off and although their goals for and conceded totals are not much different, four games have been lost by a single strike and even when they took a 3-1 lead against Málaga in the 70th minute, three points eluded them.
Athletic conceded three in their opening five Liga games but have shipped 15 since and only kept one clean sheet. That defensive frailty is Ziganda’s Achilles heel and the loss of Aymeric Laporte through suspension will not help his cause on Saturday.
Óscar de Marcos and Kepa are also doubts, although the keeper is expected to start, and with Yeray Álvarez yet to feature this season and Beñat sidelined in recent games with a knee injury, Ziganda’s back four will remain vulnerable on Saturday.
Things haven’t exactly been all roses at Real Madrid this season but Zidane has steadied his ship with six wins in his last eight Liga outings and qualified his side for the latter stages of the Champions League with a game to spare – another consideration for Ziganda ahead of the champions’ visit with Athletic needing to avoid defeat away at Zorya Luhansk next week to progress.
However, the old Madrid defensive issues have raised their head again and clean sheets have been at a premium. Málaga had failed to score away from home in six attempts this season but pushed Madrid all the way last week by striking twice in the Bernabéu and Athletic have the players to punish any lapses at the back.
Zidane will therefore be relieved to have Sergio Ramos back from a fractured nose and Nacho from suspension for the game in San Mamés.
Gareth Bale will be absent with a recurrence of his calf issue and Marco Asensio remains sidelines, depriving Zidane of two of his most effective attacking players. Ronaldo and Karim Benzema have hardly been prolific this season in the league but at least the Frenchman knows where the Bilbao onion bag is in the new San Mamés, having scored twice in a 2-1 win in 2015-16 and once in a victory by the same score line last season.
Real face a testing run of games before Christmas, culminating in the Clásico at the Bernabéu, and can afford few further slip-ups in their pursuit of Barcelona and Valencia. Like Athletic, they were a lot better off this time last year: six points clear at the top of the table with 11 more goals scored.
Athletic Club vs Real Madrid live stream online: selected betting odds
Athletic are 5/1 to beat Real Madrid for the first time in three seasons with the visitors priced at 1/2. Iñaki Williams is a 10/1 punt to score first with Cristiano Ronalso at 23/10 to finally get off the mark in the new San Mamés.