Real Madrid show big improvements in win vs Athletic Bilbao

Real Madrid raced to victory in their La Liga game at the San Mames last night. Carlo Ancelotti will be pretty delighted in the way his team went about things. Starting with a slightly unusual XI, Nacho Fernandez’s inclusion at right-back or the shape of a new-look midfield three was deemed questionable ahead of kick-off.

However, Real Madrid took the opportunity to prove those doubts wrong against an Athletic Bilbao side that seemed like they were really up for a contest in the opening exchanges.

A contest it was, but one that Real Madrid convincingly won by the end, thanks to goals from Karim Benzema and Toni Kroos.

And there was a lot for Real Madrid fans to be encouraged by in the club’s win vs Athletic Bilbao:

Real Madrid’s defence looks solid again

Thibaut Courtois has had to be the saviour for Real Madrid several times in the recent past. However, that was not the case in Bilbao, where a backline of Ferland Mendy, Antonio Rudiger, Eder Militao and Nacho did quite well to save the Belgian from any significant trouble between the posts.

Militao won each of his individual duels with the fast and athletic Inaki Williams, while Rudiger struggled with his passing initially but had a neat game from then on.

Out wide, both Nacho and Mendy played to very different strategies. The Spaniard on one hand was extremely calm under pressure and defended rather well. On the other hand, the French left-back was faced with the tough task of defending the electric Nico Williams.

Although initially struggling against the 20-year-old’s pace, Mendy did very decently for much of the game, even getting involved in the final third of the pitch.

New-look midfield is revitalised with energy

Many in the fanbase were of the opinion that Ancelotti had used a makeshift midfield three keeping in mind the upcoming Madrid Derby in the Copa del Rey but on the contrary, it may have been a reward for the incredibly hardworking Dani Ceballos and Eduardo Camavinga.

The duo started in the middle of the park and instantly looked to take the game to Athletic Bilbao, not being restricted by any of the limitations that come with starting senior midfielders like Kroos and Modric.

Ceballos kept play ticking, almost like a younger replacement for Kroos. He switched play, linked with Vinicius Jr on the left and made sure the team had possession of the ball when they needed to.

Camavinga on the other hand was just as involved in the initial build-up phase but obviously contributed more to leading attacks. His style is very different to how a composed veteran like Modric goes about his business but even that will come with game time and experience.

If anything, it was great to see Camavinga complete the full 90 minutes, seeing how often he had been subbed off at half-time in the past. He picked up yet another booking, which has been the case in 5 of the last 6 games.

Federico Valverde was excellent throughout, and his most notable contribution came with the cross that lead to Benzema’s opening goal.

Both Kroos and Modric came on late in the game, with the German bagging a goal impressive even by his standards.

The front three are starting to produce again

This game was a classic example of Real Madrid’s wide players paving the way for their number 9 to perform. And although neither Marco Asensio not Vinicius had the best of games individually, their presence elevated the team’s game to another level. The Spaniard’s positioning to win the header for that first goal must be appreciated.

He has often been criticised for being too one-dimensional with his game and that’s evidently changed with time. Vinicius on the other hand seemed all fired up after 45 superb minutes at Villarreal last week. Having inspired that comeback, the Brazilian winger was on the end of some rough tackles from the Athletic Bilbao players and that is something that he must be getting used to by now.

Vinicius will undoubtedly spring back to his usual best in time but Ancelotti’s confidence in him is of supreme importance. Once the goals, flicks and dribbles start to flow again, the weaknesses will deftly fade out of his game.

The chances may not have fallen in abundance at San Mames but the signs of an offensive resurgence are there. Once the likes of Benzema and Vinicius hit top form, in terms of output, again and more goals start coming from midfield, Real Madrid will look a formidable attacking force once again.

Overall, Real Madrid seemed to make light work of an inspired Athletic Bilbao side. In truth, this was a clinical display of resilience and great efficiency. Onto the next one.