The 3-1 score line could lead to the belief that Real Madrid maintained their form of the previous week on Tuesday, but that wasn’t the case. It’s enough to point out that in stoppage time with Madrid 2-1 up, Athletic midfielder Mikel Vesga gave Zinedine Zidane’s side a fright when he stole into the area and forced Thibaut Courtois into the save of the game. Immediately afterwards, Karim Benzema added a third for the home side, who in half a minute prevented a 2-2 draw and ensured victory. But this was not a Madrid performance to match those of the week that preceded it. They were playing against 10 men for more than 75 minutes after Raúl García was sent off after coming out all guns blazing against Toni Kroos and Luka Modric and earned himself two swift yellow cards.
García’s second caution came after match referee Gil Manzano decided against awarding a penalty in Athletic’s favour. This sequence of events caused a furor on social media. There was less clamour when Ander Capa halted a Vinicius incursion into the Athletic area with his hand, another penalty not given. Gil Manzano, who is in line to referee at the 2022 World Cup, has been off the boil for some time. But his decisions favoured the home side. Once again, the evidence was laid bare that if a side sits back and waits Madrid find it difficult to open up the defence. If a goal comes, it is through their persistence prowling the edge of the area, which is where Kroos’ goal came from and Benzema’s first, from a corner.
Casemiro the key to Madrid's balance
But as is often the case in games like this, Madrid’s relentless attack resulted in the team becoming disorganized. Capa capitalized on the disorder to make it 1-1 and Madrid were on the verge of conceding an equalizer with no time remaining to react. It speaks volumes that even Madrid’s third goal failed to remove the look of concern and irritation from Zidane’s face. It was a decent result, but it was a far cry from the triumphal games of last week. Zidane compensated for the absence of Casemiro with the recently returned Fede Valverde but deployed him an unfamiliar position ahead of Kroos and Modric, who formed an approximation of a double six. It was a curious decision and failed to reap the desired result (Isco replaced Valverde just after the hour-mark) and only served to further reinforce just how important Casemiro is to Real Madrid.