Real Madrid vs. Athletic Bilbao: 6 Things We Learned

Tim StannardContributor ISeptember 1, 2013

MADRID, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 01:  Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid celebrates after scoring Real's 2nd goal during the La Liga match between Real Madrid CF and Athletic Club Bilbao at estadio Santiago Bernabeu on September 1, 2013 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
Denis Doyle/Getty Images

6. Early kickoffs are still the way forward

Despite the myth that all Spaniards sleep for seven hours during the day and stay up until four in the morning, late night kickoffs in La Liga are hugely unpopular. Midday slots, though, are huge hits in terms of attendance.

Indeed, clubs such as Atletico Madrid actively request them from the controlling TV companies. Whenever Real Madrid play in the morning—anytime before lunch is considered so in Spain—the stadium is fuller, the atmosphere outside the ground always has a bigger buzz about it, and best of all, the stands are stuffed to the brim with children. 


5. There is still a myth that Athletic Bilbao are a tough team for Madrid

Perhaps as an attempt to put bums on stadium seats and sofas, there are always rumblings in the Spanish papers that Athletic Bilbao are going to give Madrid a tough test. That has not happened for a very long time now.

Even before Sunday’s 3-1 victory over the Basque visitors, Athletic had shipped 19 goals in the last four league games in the Santiago Bernabeu. Thirteen of the past 14 fixtures in the capital ended in a win for the home team, making the Real Madrid vs. Athletic Bilbao rivalry potentially one of the most one-sided contests in La Primera. 


4. Alvaro Arbeloa is in the right-back driving seat

With a solid preseason for newcomer Dani Carvajal and erratic form for Alvaro Arbeloa last year, the Confederations Cup saw Carvajal starting as first choice at right-back. Unfortunately a bit of a nightmare against Betis in the Bernabeu in the season’s opener forced coach Carlo Ancelotti’s hand in choosing the more reliable if less spectacular Arbeloa at the back.  


3. Xabi Alonso is not going to be missed

For the past four seasons at Real Madrid, Xabi Alonso was one of the two footballers at the club who would always be noticed by his absence—the other being Cristiano Ronaldo.

The former Liverpool man was the brains of the group, the controlling quarter-back, the figure who kept the team ticking over. A strong preseason and a fine display against Athletic Bilbao in particular sees Luka Modric making sure Alonso is not going to be missed. 

A tremendous speed of thought and even quicker feet, especially in the first half, added dynamism to a team that is now more compressed under Ancelotti. Unless the Italian coach intends to play the two midfielders together this season, Xabi Alonso could be another Real Madrid big hitter spending time on the bench once the Basque footballer is back to full fitness. 


2. Isco made the right move to turn down Manchester City 

The initial concern for Isco when deciding between a move to Real Madrid and Manchester City was playing time. The Spaniard was expected to get more in England under his former Malaga boss, Manuel Pellegrini, than in Madrid, which had Mesut Ozil, Kaka and even Luka Modric in their ranks.

Those worries must now seem far, far away after a start to the season that the playmaker could not have dreamed of. Isco has scored three from three league games with one assist. It is no wonder that that the crowd at the Santiago Bernabeu are singing the footballer’s name already. 


1. There may have been two departing players on the Bernabeu benches

The sight of Athletic Bilbao’s Ander Herrera missing from the starting lineup and failing to come on as a substitute was no great surprise. The midfielder is expected to be joining Manchester United before the transfer deadline to put €36 million into Athletic’s accounts, money that the club cannot really spend due to the local-club-for-local-people transfer policy. 

However, with Mesut Ozil joining Iker Casillas on the bench, there could be an outside chance of the footballer bailing out (no Gareth pun intended), having seen Isco dominating in the German’s favourite position behind Karim Benzema and Angel di Maria on the right.

What Ozil needs to work out is if the choice to bench him from Ancelotti was a punishment for a bit of a strop last week during the Granada game or if it is going to be a long-term tactical decision. If it is the latter, than Ozil may want to make a quick call to his agent.