Athletic – R. Madrid: Benzema always shines in La Catedral
ORAn extraordinary volley by Karim Benzema, always a torment for Athletic, highlighted the difference at San Mams between two dedicated, energetic teams. That high quality that determines points, prices and budgets served an improved Madrid, more sacrificed, to which Kroos, a substitute along with Modric, put the finishing touch. Valverde’s team did not deserve so much punishment, dominating in a remarkable second half, but they lacked what his opponent had. Talent and temper in the auction.
It might seem logical, but not easy. Athletic’s demand at San Mams demanded a dynamic line-up, and La Cermica provided the solution. Ancelotti respected the meritocracy of Ceballos, Asensio and Camavinga to make room for them in the eleven and the response was satisfactory. Except for a good rojiblanco start, with Nico Williams exploiting the one-on-one against Mendy, Madrid had the necessary pace to prevail on the pitch, with and without the ball. The coverage of Ceballos and Valverde worked, the positional sense of Camavinga or the relief of the three points when helping with the ball out.
Madrid gained security thanks to its firmness at the back, and the one who most influenced this was Nacho. He occupied the right-hand side, but he swung perfect to cover Militao’s back, where the rojiblancos finishers go. He had them stiff with Vencedor, with Yuri, with Berenguer, with whom he entered his domain. He even gave him to look for rojiblanco territory, giving breadth to the field.
Athletic is always competitive against the greats, even if it lacks very important pieces. Not having Yeray, one of the best center-backs in LaLiga, is a problem, but Valverde put Paredes in the eleventh line and the young center-back’s response was stupendous. In fact, he was able to put the lions ahead with a good header that Courtois had to take out for a corner. Success of both.
In such even duels, quality tends to make the difference, and in San Mams the one who is usually decisive is Benzema. He finished off twice, once elevated and another saved by Paredes, to Nacho’s cross. In the third, picking up a forced header from Asensio behind, he invented a left-footed volley, crossed, to the base of the post, to put Madrid ahead and settle until the break of a game played at top speed.
As at the beginning, Athletic redoubled their efforts at the start of the second act, trying to suffocate Madrid at the start. He did it, but he took little production of chances to the number of balls stolen from the rival. Sancet was not fine, who usually interprets the balls between the lines well. The domain was rojiblanco, but was exposed to the counter. It was spun by Valverde, Benzema and Asensios, a spectacular player who left next to the post. Vinicius did not intervene, once again involved in more than merit plays. There are those who affirm that the Brazilian needs trouble to perform better. In San Mams he was almost always confused, lost in protests. Although in some he was right and the referee admonished him for cracking. He saw a very fair yellow card and Ancelotti had to change it.
Valverde made a triple change and revitalized Athletic, who settled in the opposite field. He searched for the bands with insistence and speed, with Herrera in the axis next to Vesga. Marc Iaki Williams picking up a rebound from Courtois after a miraculous save, but annulled the referee for Guruzeta’s offside in Yuri’s shot that forced the Belgian to intervene. Under sheer pressure, Athletic forced a good handful of corners that, with Muniain as the pitcher, created an obvious risk. And since he did not take advantage of those actions, Madrid did not forgive. Rodrygo took advantage of Lekue’s indecision, activated the counter and the center back found the perfect strike from Toni Kroos, accommodating his body to position himself next to the post, off the back of Unai Simón. A great goal to crown a disputed and fun game.