Athletic Hurt Real, Leaves Door Open for Barca to Climb Top

Aritz Aduriz’s brilliant header did the damage as Athletic Bilbao defeated Real Madrid on Saturday to hand Barcelona a rare chance to go top of the La Liga.

Ersnesto Valverde’s men followed up their Copa del Rey semi-final win over Espanyol with an impressive performance against Real who dropped points for the second time in eight days.

A lethargic first half performance by the Los Blancos signaled a change of fortune from their 5-0 thumping of Saturday’s hosts in October’s reverse and, despite an improved second half display- diminished by some impressive Bilbao defending which prevented Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo from scoring simple tap ins- alas Real slipped to their fifth defeat of the season.

Cristiano Ronaldo Exasperated During Real's 1-0 Defeat at Athletic Bilbao. Image: Getty.
Cristiano Ronaldo Exasperated During Real’s 1-0 Defeat at Athletic Bilbao. Image: Getty.

A win for Barcelona against Rayo Vallecano on Sunday means the Catalans will leapfrog Carlo Ancelotti’s men at the top of the standings.

However, it was Bilbao’s first win against the European champions since January 2010, enough to propel the club to eighth in the table.

Aside some speculative Aduriz effort in the second minute of the first half, Bilbao were on the back foot in the opening quarter.

But the visitors were busy making a meal of their chances without having a shot on target in the opening period, while Zabier Etxeita intercepted a crucial Benzema centre to an unmarked Ronaldo and Pepe headed over from the ensuing corner.

The hosts managed to pull ahead in the 26th minute and it served as a killer punch for the rest of the day. Aduriz timed his run to meet Mikel Riko’s tailored delivery and powered with his head into the right-hand corner.

An excellent interception from Mikel Balenziaga spoiled Benzema’s attempt to tap in Ronaldo’s cross after the restart. The Portuguese superstar himself was left in a position to jab in a Gareth bale cross across the six-yard box but goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz palmed the ball to safety.

Iraizoz then raced off his line to make a timely clearance with Ronaldo again lurking to slide in.

The San Mames crowd could smell upset at this point and Bilbao almost doubled their lead when Dani Carvajal’s attempted headed clearance fell to Aduriz, who headed against the outside of the left-hand post in turn.

Bale nearly restored parity out of the blue but his apparent cross from just after the halfway line rebounded off the right-hand post despite sailing over Iraizoz.

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