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Two stars in the Bernabéu: Kepa and Cristiano

Cristiano Ronaldo delivered another pearl in the Bernabéu on Wednesday night and salvaged the game for Real Madrid. The original shot was from Luka Modric, with the Portuguese applying the finest of touches with his back to goal to guide it inside the post. Veterans will be reminded when studying the video of a goal Madrid scored back in 1960 against Peñarol, when Alfredo di Stéfano did something similar from a Ferenc Puskás assist, with two slight differences. One; Puskás’ shot was going in and I suspect that Modric’s was not. Two; I am not entirely sure that Di Stéfano intended to make contact with the ball or if he did so while tripping over trying to get out of the way of it. In any case, the practical and aesthetic effect was the same.

Only with something unexpected of that ilk were Madrid able to find a way past Kepa Arrizabalaga, who Florentino Pérez was so close to signing in January until Zinedine Zidane put the stoppers on the deal. Since then, Kepa has been in excellent form and the future for him is bright and long. His stance, elegance and temperament remind me of José Ángel Iribar and I imagine that Pérez is still privately annoyed with his coach, who even went so far as to express his opposition to the proposed transfer in a press conference. Others may not have been afforded that luxury by the Madrid president but Zidane has won credit for his stance on the issue even if the eventual winners were Athletic, who held on to their keeper, raised his minimum release clause from 20 million to 80 million euros and have since watched him earn them points in a difficult season.

Wednesday’s match between the sides was a good one, mostly academic in the first half and rowdy in the second. The Athletic side that turned up at the Bernabéu were completely removed from the dispirited side that have been on show for most of the season and in most of LaLiga’s stadiums. Cuco Ziganda’s side played well, with courage and direction, taking the lead through Iñaki Williams and hitting the bar with the score still at 0-1. And Madrid were decent in bursts as well, with Zidane playing the formation he will most likely use against Bayern Munich next week. Among them was Karim Benzema, who was more hard-working than usual but still raised the heckles of the stands when a shot went high over the bar. In the end, it was an enjoyable evening with nothing at stake for either side and Ronaldo and Kepa adding the star quality.