Helped by a great header goal by forward Aritz Aduriz, mid-table Athletic Bilbao outlasted league-leaders Real Madrid 1-0 on Saturday at San Mamés. The hotly contested match was a shocking upset of a Real Madrid side not in their best form.
The deciding goal was an absolute beauty from Athletic Bilbao’s Aduriz in the 26th minute, his ninth league score. He flicked a brilliant header on a ball from midfielder Mikel Rico. Aduriz re-directed the ball that was hit with pace, slipping it into the net past the outstretched hands of goalkeeper Iker Casillas. The header was wonderfully placed and nearly impossible to stop. The goal put Athletic up 1-0, which would prove to be enough for the memorable victory. Athletic Bilbao had come into the match having lost their last two matches, but managed to pull the amazing upset.
Real Madrid came into the match with a narrow two-point lead in La Liga over second-place Barcelona. Carlo Ancelotti’s side might fall to second place if Barcelona can win their match on Sunday against Rayo. Los Blancos have struggled in league play lately, tying Villarreal 1-1 in their last match on March 1. Ernesto Valverde’s Atheltic side, on the other hand, will surely be happy with result as they try to move up from the center of the La Liga table.
The second half was when most of the excitement of the match took place. Real Madrid ramped up the pressure to try and equalize. They found chances but were not able to capitalize. Just five minutes into the second half, a rebound nearly fell to Ronaldo that would have been a great chance at goal. But the Athletic defense converged to poke away the bouncing ball and keep the lead. That would be just the first of a bevy of chances for Real Madrid.
Goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz also made a few key saves to keep Athletic in the lead, including a well-read stop in which he came out of his net to suffocate an attack by Cristiano Ronaldo. Iraizoz later made another great stop when he knocked away a shot on a Ronaldo breakaway. Winger Garreth Bale nearly tied the match for Real Madrid when he hit a lofting shot from nearly half-field in the 83rd minute. He caught Iraizoz out of his net but the shot rattled off the crossbar. It would have been a highlight-reel goal for the star Welshman who has failed to score in the last seven league matches. In the end, Real Madrid's attack simply couldn't find a goal.
Despite Los Blanocs increasing pressure, the match was relatively even the entire way through and Athletic earned the result. They had their own chances, including another header that Casillas was able to punch away.
The first half was especially well-played by Athletic Bilbao. Real Madrid controlled most of the possession but were not able to find much attacking room against an organized defense. In fact, Athletic had perhaps more danger to their attacking despite spending a good portion of the half defending Los Blancos. Winning the first half proved to be enough for Athletic Bilbao to win the day.
The league-leaders simply were not able to break through in a match that looked like it could have gone either direction at times. Real Madrid fought to earn at least a point but Athletic Bilbao were admirably resilient and defended with purpose while attacking in counterattack bursts.
Real Madrid play next when they host Schalke 04 in Champions League match on Tuesday. The match is the second leg of a matchup they lead 2-0 on aggregate score. Athletic Bilbao will move on to face Celta Vigo in an away La Liga match next Saturday.