Athletic Club gave a fine account of themselves at the Bernabéu. They grew into the game, weathering Real Madrid’s good first 20 minutes before coming back into it and finishing much the stronger of the two teams. The Basques lost because of their inability to take their chances, which is nothing new. Iñaki Williams is a quick, dangerous forward, but he’s not a clinical finisher. Iker Muniain knits things together nicely and provides great dead-ball delivery into the box, but plays deeper and deeper. Raúl García remains a real threat, but he isn’t getting any younger, and lasting 90 minutes is increasingly a struggle for him. He had the clearest opportunity to equalise, but was denied by Thibaut Courtois.
Real Madrid have Courtois to thank for the win
Courtois was the man of the match. With that save and a couple of others, he won the game for Madrid. The Belgian made up for the shortcomings of a team that’s beginning to feel the effects of Carlo Ancelotti’s reliance on his first-choice picks. He has so much more faith in them than their understudies, so they’re always in the side. They’re mostly regulars for their countries, too, so as the season progresses, all those games, trips and niggles start to take their toll. Athletic don’t have better players than Madrid, but ended up being the better side, and not just because Marcelino has them well drilled. Above all, they had more energy.
Other than the right wing, where neither Marco Asensio nor Rodrygo Goes is able to nail the role down, and as we wait for Dani Carvajal to get back to his best (he has a good replacement in Lucas Vázquez), the rest of the line-up is set in stone. The question is how long they’ll be able to handle two games a week, between domestic, European and international commitments. Yesterday, Madrid had enough in the tank for 20 good minutes, an evenly-matched middle phase of the game and a final 20 in which Athletic had them at their mercy. It was Courtois to the rescue. Madrid are winning games and have stretched their lead at the top of the table, but they aren’t convincing. And that defence does not breed confidence.