Real Madrid climbed to second in La Liga after a 4-2 win against Athletic Bilbao on Saturday, as Cristiano Ronaldo bagged a brace for Los Blancos.
Ronaldo opened the scoring after less than two minutes to set the tone for a very stylish display from manager Zinedine Zidane's team. Real also got goals from James Rodriguez and Toni Kroos, while Javier Eraso and Gorka Elustondo scored for Bilbao.
Eraso gave Madrid an early scare when he latched on to a defensive gaffe to cancel out Ronaldo's opener.
Ronaldo's second came in the closing stages after Madrid centre-back Raphael Varane was sent off following a second dubious booking, and Elustondo notched a late header for the visitors.
Zidane had picked an attacking team with a midfield packed with expressive ball-players, including Croatian duo Luka Modric and Mateo Kovacic. The Madrid boss also included forward James, whose form has come under scrutiny in recent weeks.
Los Merengues tweeted the full starting XI:
Bilbao fielded a strong team featuring prolific target man Aritz Aduriz, as well as centre-back Aymeric Laporte. The club shared the official lineup via Twitter:
Ronaldo found the net in no time at all, cutting in from the left flank and unleashing a typically powerful shot.
The finish brought Ronaldo level with the division's top scorer, according to WhoScored.com:
Cristiano Ronaldo: Only Luis Suárez has scored as many goals as Ronaldo in La Liga this season (20) #RMAvATH— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) February 13, 2016
He also maintained his form as Real's most effective outlet in the final third, per Squawka:
Cristiano Ronaldo has been directly involved in 27 La Liga goals this season; more than any other player. pic.twitter.com/N8kGVB3WvT— Squawka Football (@Squawka) February 13, 2016
Sid Lowe of the Guardian felt a return to a familiar position had helped Ronaldo:
Ronaldo looking more like he used to: running at people from left, dangerous— Sid Lowe (@sidlowe) February 13, 2016
Industrious midfielder Eraso then struck for the visitors, pouncing on a blunder from Varane to give them a shock equaliser.
Bilbao continued creating chances after drawing level, and Aduriz forced a brilliant save from Keylor Navas after a thumping header, before he thrashed a shot off the bar.
Those missed opportunities soon came back to haunt Bilbao when James put the home side back in front. His long-range shot found the bottom corner slightly against the run of play.
Despite questions about his temperament since Zidane took over, James has been producing the goods in attacking areas recently, per WhoScored.com:
James Rodríguez: Has played a direct hand in 4 goals in his last 4 apps for Madrid (2 goals + 2 assists) #RMAvATH— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) February 13, 2016
In fact, the mercurial Colombian has made a considerable impact since arriving in the Spanish capital in 2014:
James Rodriguez has been involved in more La Liga goals (37) than any other midfielder since joining Real Madrid. pic.twitter.com/26U0StFXhT— Squawka Football (@Squawka) February 13, 2016
With three goals already on the board, ESPN's Dermot Corrigan lauded the thrilling pace of the game, along with the attacking intent from both sides:
Could easily be 3-3 at Bernabeu. Madrid making lots of chances, but loads of holes at back.— Dermot Corrigan (@dermotmcorrigan) February 13, 2016
Kroos was next on the scoresheet for Los Blancos. The German playmaker produced a clever finish for a very rare goal in front of the home fans:
Toni Kroos: Has scored his first goal at the Santiago Bernabéu since November 2014 (vs Rayo Vallecano) #RMAvATH— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) February 13, 2016
Madrid had just about shaded the half and certainly produced the more ruthless form in front of goal. Corrigan summed up what Real now look like on Zidane's watch:
Zidane's Madrid definitely means spectacle it seems... players pouring forward in attack, but defence often very stretched.— Dermot Corrigan (@dermotmcorrigan) February 13, 2016
Meanwhile, Lowe was impressed by Kovacic, who produced a steady and intelligent first-half display:
I've quite liked Kovacic in first half. Interesting to see Ronaldo more on left than recently. Danilo struggling defensively.— Sid Lowe (@sidlowe) February 13, 2016
Ronaldo saw a free-kick hit the woodwork early in the second half as Madrid continued to attack relentlessly.
Bilbao had lost some composure on the ball after the break, with players regularly getting caught in possession. Madrid were quick to recycle those turnovers into chances as Karim Benzema and James both threatened the Bilbao goal.
But Bilbao might have created some hope had Aduriz not been caught on his heels when a very presentable chance came his way. Instead, Navas collected comfortably.
Zidane then withdrew Kovacic, which was something of a surprise considering how well the pass-master was playing.
However, ESPN's Eduardo Alvarez felt the decision was made for the good of another player:
How is Kovacic and not James the one who goes to the bench? The only logical answer is that Zidane wants to play James into shape— Eduardø Alvarez (@Alvarez) February 13, 2016
Rodriguez was eventually subbed with 10 minutes left, in favour of winger Lucas Vazquez. Then came Varane's questionable dismissal for a second yellow card.
Lowe was thoroughly unimpressed by both bookings:
Varane off! Two yellow cards for two entirely normal jumps to head a ball (as far as I can see). Horribly cheap, harsh red card.— Sid Lowe (@sidlowe) February 13, 2016
It was Vazquez who teed up Ronaldo for Madrid's fourth. The goal sealed the game and made Ronaldo the most active forward in Europe:
No player has been involved in more league goals (29) in Europe's top 5 leagues this season than Cristiano Ronaldo. pic.twitter.com/bPq4Xf6EoB— Squawka Football (@Squawka) February 13, 2016
Elustondo's header in injury time gave Bilbao nothing more than a faint consolation.
Zidane was in no mood to mince his words when he described how two-goal hero Ronaldo had answered his critics, per Sky Sports (h/t Sky Sports La Liga):
Madrid's players weren't shy about lauding life under Zidane. James made it clear how switching mangers has helped the squad, per Spanish publication Marca:
Kovacic also endorsed his new boss:
As for Bilbao, manager Ernesto Valverde rued his team's missed chances, per Spanish source AS:
Madrid's free-scoring home form under Zidane continues. That's now 20 goals in four league games in front of the Bernabeu faithful since the Frenchman succeeded Rafa Benitez.
If Zidane can coax even minor improvement from his side away from home, Los Merengues will again be a viable threat in this season's title race.