Athletic 0-1 Real Madrid: Madrid win to take the title fight to the final day, Garcia sees red

Nacho-Casemiro-Rodrygo-Alvaro Odriozola-Real Madrid vs Athletic Bilbao
Nacho-Casemiro-Rodrygo-Alvaro Odriozola-Real Madrid vs Athletic Bilbao | Photo Credit: IMAGO

Real Madrid took the battle for the La Liga title to the final day of the season thanks to a one-nil win over Athletic Club on Sunday.

Zinedine Zidane’s men took their tally for the season to 81 points, but Luis Suarez’s late goal for Atletico Madrid in their game against Osasuna meant that despite their best effort, they remain in second place in the league.

Madrid thought they were heading for the top of the table after Nacho’s second-half strike gave them the lead in the 68th minute. Atletico Madrid, who were playing simultaneously, were losing to Osasuna. But their rivals fought back to take all three points and set up a tense final day battle next week.

Los Blancos began poorly but fashioned their first real chance of the game in the 29th minute when Benzema hit the crossbar with a close header. That Benzema chance in the 29th minute and another penalty shout in the 31st minute was all that the visitors could foster in a first half that had little quality football. 

But in the second half, Zidane’s men turned on the heat with a series of shots on goal. First, Modric tested Simon in the goal before Casemiro hit the woodwork with a looping header.

And in the 68th minute, their improved performance was rewarded with a goal when Nacho stabbed home from close-range following Casemiro’s cross. 

The hosts fought back but couldn’t snatch home a late equaliser before Bilbao substitute Raul Garcia got sent off in the dying moments of the game to effectively end their chance of equalising.

With that said, here are two observations from the game.

Madrid remain in title hunt

At one point on Sunday evening, it looked like Atletico Madrid were going to hand the initiative to Los Blancos as they were losing to Osasuna up to the 81st minute. But a late comeback win meant that Rojiblancos remain in the driving seat of the La Liga race.

Diego Simeone’s men are two points ahead of their city rivals and can wrap up the title if they win their final game against Real Valladolid next week. 

Zidane will now be hoping that a win against Villareal next week will be enough to secure the title. 

Zidane: “We are still in it. We are going to give our all until the final minute. We knew the league would go down to the last minute. We are going to fight for it. I’m happy about our match. We’re still alive."

Zidane’s future affecting Madrid performance 

Rumours have been swirling around on Zinedine Zidane’s future within the past day or two, with most news sites in Spain claiming that the Madrid legend is ready to walk away at the end of the season. 

Perhaps the news of his imminent departure was the reason Real Madrid’s performance was lacking tonight. Los Blancos looked inadequate and sluggish in the first half and could not muster up enough drive to trouble their hosts. 

They did wake up in the second half, but earlier, they were looking like a team lacking in imagination and chemistry. Perhaps the uncertainty around their manager’s future was a reason for their lack of drive in the first half.