Goals for Karim Benzema and Toni Kroos saw Real Madrid battle their way to a 2-0 win against Athletic Bilbao in a lively LaLiga encounter on Sunday.
Veteran France international Benzema hooked back a loose ball with a sensational volley to beat Unai Simon in the 24th minute at San Mames Stadium.
Kroos then swept home a breakaway finish in the 90th minute to wrap up the points for Carlo Ancelotti’s men and keep the pressure on league leaders Barcelona.
But Ernesto Valverde’s side will be left to mull whether they should have taken a point from the encounter after pushing hard for a draw before Kroos’ goal ended those hopes.
— Real Madrid C.F. (@realmadriden) January 22, 2023
Following Barca’s victory over Getafe, it was imperative for Madrid to ensure they kept pace with a win of their own.
In a first half not short of opportunities, they had the edge over their hosts and demonstrated a shrewd ability to capitalise on their mistakes.
That proved invaluable when Benzema rescued Marco Asensio’s wayward header and volleyed home.
Madrid were initially frustrated in their attempts to double the advantage, with Asensio narrowly shooting past the left post in the 66th minute.
Inaki Williams briefly thought he had found the equaliser for the hosts with 13 minutes left, only for the linesman’s flag to rule his finish out with an offside call against Gorka Guruzeta.
Athletic’s hopes of salvaging a late draw were dashed at the death when Kroos picked off a Rodrygo ball and coolly slotted home from outside the box.
What does it mean? Madrid keep up the heat
Ancelotti’s side headed to Bilbao knowing dropped points may prove seriously damaging to their title credentials.
Though they looked at risk of wavering with a one-goal lead, they were ultimately good value for their victory and will take confidence from the result going forward.
Benzema makes more LaLiga history
The Frenchman’s first-half finish was yet another top-flight goal to savour, but more importantly, it was his 228th for Madrid in the competition.
That draws him level with Raul for joint-second on the club’s all-time LaLiga scorer chart, trailing only former team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo, who leads with 311.
Hosts rue wayward finishing
It was not to be for Valverde and his men, who came out of the blocks in the second half seeking a result against one of the division’s heavyweight outfits.
With 18 shots to Madrid’s 10, they outgunned their visitors throughout, but with just three of those on target, they ultimately failed to earn a share of the spoils.
Key Opta Facts
– Athletic Bilbao have not won any of their last 15 games against Real Madrid in LaLiga (D4 L11), losing each of the last six.
– Real Madrid have won points in each of their last eight visits to Athletic in LaLiga (W6 D2) since a 1-0 loss in March 2015, with Carlo Ancelotti and Ernesto Valverde also on both benches.
– Real Madrid have not lost in their last 12 visits to teams from the Basque Country in LaLiga (W11 D1), since losing 3-1 v Real Sociedad in May 2019, winning each of the last seven.
– Karim Benzema has scored 17 goals against Athletic Club in LaLiga. Since his arrival to Real Madrid in the 2009-10 season, no other player has scored more goals against the Basque club than he has in the competition.
Both sides are in Copa del Rey quarter-final action on Thursday, with Athletic Bilbao facing Valencia and Real Madrid squaring up with local rivals Atletico Madrid.
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