Los Blancos fell 2-1 to Athletic Club on a disappointing night, which came as just the latest underwhelming result of the season for the club.
Adding to Zidane’s woes it was the same competition where they won their first trophy of last season and turned their season around. Real Madrid hoped to turn their season in this competition and placed their best Xi on the field. But a resilient Athletic Bilbao took a first-half 2-0 lead. Benzema strike late but Real failed to equalize the scoreline. It was a mixed match for Real Madrid. They were outplayed in the first half and conceded two goals because of the intense disciplined press from Bilbao. Marcelino’s team was smart and counter pressed Real Madrid. Raul Garcia opened the scoreline and Lucas Vasquez gave away a penalty who again started out of his natural position today to cover for injured Dani Carvajal. But the 2nd half was different. Real came back stronger. They had a good half and created many chances. But failed to capitalize later on. Benzema got them back in the game but later on, Real Madrid faced an intense defensive display from Athletic. Sergio Ramos played almost as a striker for the last 10 minutes in desperate need of an hour. But it was not enough for them to win the tie.
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The Biggest Disappointments
Toni Kross: The man who hardly puts a foot wrong was outplayed in the midfield. Bilbao got the better of Toni Kross and pressed him intensely. Kross controls the tempo of the game and Athletic didn’t let him. Kross lost the ball twice in the midfield and almost conceded if not for the brilliance of Courtois. His passes were misplaced and his passing lanes through the middle were blocked. That was the stroke of brilliance from Marcelino’s team. Neutralising Kross decreased Madrid’s efficiency in going upfront.
Ferland Mendy: Every time Mendy had the ball, he looked dead. He looked out of idea. He had Hazard and Asensio on his overlap but he hardly combined with them. He just passed sideways or circulated the ball on the midfield. Hazard especially looked for Mendy to connect with him. Defensively Mendy was good as usual. But it was an offensive flair that Madrid misses on the left-back position where players like Roberto Carlos and Marcelo sparkled over generations.
The Positives from the match
Marco Asensio: Asensio was Los Blancos' biggest threat on the night, but his efforts weren't enough to salvage a result. He was the brightest player on the pitch. He hit the crossbar twice and almost set up two goals. It was a frustrating night for him. His reaction after hitting the crossbar described his whole match.
Asensio said after the game, “We looked like we had them at the end. We're sad and angry, but this is football and we have to continue."
The Spaniard believes that Athletic's opener allowed them to grow into the game, which put Real Madrid on the back foot.
Asensio started on the left flank where he had a better performance in the recent matches. Hazard started out wide right. Hazard was naturally out of his preferred position but then after a while, they exchanged position and Madrid was better that time. Both of them looked bright. But Benzema looked off-color and Asensio had to look for other options. Lucas Vasquez and Modric tried to combine with Asensio. Asensio was the only one who seemed to make something happen. Real Madrid will be looking forward to seeing more of him. Asensio missed more than half of the last season and had trouble getting back to his usual self this season. But Zidane put faith in him and slowly increased his game time. Asensio must take nothing but positivity from this match. The lad had a good game. Asensio, also not getting too down about the result, says that Real Madrid will have to bounce back in order to compete on other fronts.
"We're sad and angry, but we have other goals. We have to get back on our feet.", he added.
Eden Hazard: The Belgian was brought in to give teeth to the Real Madrid attack. But COVID and a long list of injuries kept him aside for the longest time. Eden missed more matches for Real Madrid than he did for Chelsea in his entire career. But after a cautious return from injury, Zidane didn’t hurry him on the pitch. He is yet to play full 90 minutes for Madrid this season. Zidane introduced his return slowly but steadily. The Belgian looked fine and slowly showed those signs Real wanted from him. Against Bilbao, he looked sharp. But unfortunately, he didn’t enter into the best shaped Madrid side yesterday. Kross and Mendy looked off and Benzema didn’t look like himself. In the first half Hazard created half chances and almost earned a penalty for his team in the first half. It was close call. He was the one who desperately tried to connect midfield and forward. But Real lost the ball in transition many times. Either a misplaced pass or an early cross in the box didn't help Madrid's cause. But Madrid will be happy that he is slowly rediscovering himself.
"He has to be patient. He needs to score, but we have to be patient. I don't think the fans will get tired of him.”, Zidane said.
Zidane expressed his assessment on Eden Hazard, "He wants to get out of this [run of form], but it wasn't just Eden today. He needs to recover confidence, play a great game or score a goal, just to do something different.”