He missed out on the Ballon d’Or, but Karim Benzema had the moral satisfaction yesterday of coming off at San Mamés, La Catedral, to a huge ovation. His two quickfire goals - the first of which was extraordinary - had beaten Athletic Club, but the home fans’ deeply ingrained sense of sportsmanship prevailed over their annoyance at the result, and they rewarded the Frenchman with rapturous applause, which in a way was also a recognition of the excellent game they’d enjoyed. A display of attacking bravery in the first half; a display of resistance to fatigue in the second. A tense affair throughout, with some moments of real quality, and one in which Athletic arguably deserved more than they got, like at the Bernabéu.
Real Madrid were missing 11 players; Athletic Club, eight. Covid-19 and muscle injuries wrought havoc with each side’s team selection, but did not reduce the quality of the game. It had us on tenterhooks right up until the closing stages in Bilbao, when at one end the Williams brothers sowed panic in the Madrid box, and at the other Julen Agirrezabala thwarted the goalscoring chances Los Blancos created on periodic dangerous breaks. In the end, Benzema’s brace made the difference and leaves Madrid even further ahead than they were at the top of the table, and with a difficult away assignment now dealt with.
Hard to see anyone but Real Madrid winning LaLiga title
After Sevilla’s draw with Barcelona, it was already certain that Madrid would finish the first half of the season in top spot. Now, Carlo Ancelotti’s men have a greater cushion still. The only member of the chasing pack still within a reasonable distance is Sevilla. It’s hard to see this season’s title heading anywhere other than the Bernabéu, particularly when you see the lead Madrid have over their two traditional rivals: Barça, who are rebuilding little by little, and Atlético Madrid, who are in a prolonged slump. Diego Simeone celebrates 10 years as Atleti boss fresh from an unprecedented fourth straight league defeat. His authority remains beyond dispute, but his team is defending badly; there’s no denying that. And, it should also be said, they haven’t had much luck with VAR in their last two games.