Real Madrid's lead atop La Liga is in jeopardy following a 1-0 defeat to Athletic Bilbao at the new San Mames on Saturday.
Following a strong start by the home side, Aritz Aduriz scored the game's only goal with a 26th-minute header. Despite an improved performance in the second half, Real were unable to avoid a fifth league defeat of the season.
The loss left Madrid on 61 points after 26 matches, just two ahead of second-placed Barcelona. With a win at home to Rayo Vallecano on Sunday, Barcelona would take over first place in Spain's top flight.
Not that the title race would be over. With 12 games left in the season, Real Madrid still have plenty of time to reclaim the top spot. But Saturday's off-colour performance will give manager Carlo Ancelotti plenty to think about ahead of the run-in.
First, however, Real will return their attention to the UEFA Champions League and the second leg of their round-of-16 tie against Schalke. The Blancos won the first leg 2-0 last month in Germany and are in a good position to advance to the quarter-finals as they seek to retain their European crown.
Up next for Athletic, who entered Saturday's match in 10th place, is a league match at Celta Vigo next Saturday.
Athletic started brightly, controlling the game's opening exchanges but not creating clear chances. The first shot on target came in the 26th minute, and Athletic turned it into the opening goal.
Mikel Rico played the role of provider, picking out the run of Aduriz into the box with a curling cross. Aduriz connected sweetly with a header, powering the ball into the net past the sprawling Iker Casillas for a 1-0 Athletic lead.
Real Madrid had been largely quiet to that point, but the visitors nearly drew level in the 28th minute as Gareth Bale hit the target with a volley from the left side of the box. But Gorka Iraizoz saved and the linesman ruled Bale offside anyway.
Trailing by a goal at half-time, Real Madrid set out in search of an equaliser at the onset of the second half.
In the 47th minute, Isco opened up space down the flank before passing to Cristiano Ronaldo, who crossed into the middle for Karim Benzema. The Frenchman appeared set to tap in, but Mikel Balenziaga slid across to make a timely defensive intervention.
Bale created danger down the right in the 49th minute before crossing into the goalmouth for Ronaldo. Again, Real seemed set for an easy goal, but this time Iraizoz pushed the ball away to safety.
Isco tried his luck from distance in the 58th minute as Real continued to push forward. Iraizoz saved easily, though, moving to his right to keep the shot out of the bottom corner. Iraizoz then came off his line alertly to stop Benzema one-on-one in the 61st minute after the Madrid man ran onto Isco's deflected through ball.
The Athletic goalkeeper intervened yet again in the 72nd minute, coming off his line to knock the ball away from Ronaldo after the Real superstar ran onto a through ball. Four minutes later at the other end, Aduriz headed off the outside of the near post as the hosts hit Madrid with a quick attack.
Iraizoz was finally beaten in the 83rd minute as Bale caught the goalkeeper off his line with an audacious long-range effort. But with Iraizoz scrambling, Bale's shot slammed off the upright and Real Madrid remained frustrated as full-time approached.
In the end, the equaliser never came, and after a fifth league defeat of the campaign, Real Madrid's lead atop the table is in serious trouble.
|Athletic Bilbao Player Ratings|
|Oscar De Marcos||7.0|
|Markel Susaeta (for Muniain, 63')||6.0|
|Guillermo Fernandez Hierro (for Williams, 74')||6.1|
|Gaizka Toquero (for Rico, 90')||6.1|
|Ratings via WhoScored.com|
|Real Madrid Player Ratings|
|Jese Rodriguez (for Illarramendi, 70')||6.3|
|Lucas Silva (for Kroos, 75')||6.2|
|Javier Hernandez (for Benzema, 80')||6.0|
|Ratings via WhoScored.com|
Athletic goalscorer Aritz Aduriz, via Football Espana:
It’s been a beautiful week, everything went well. We won at Eibar, we won in the Copa and beat (Real) Madrid.
Beating Real Madrid without suffering is impossible. We’re very proud of the work we did. These are three points, which will drive us on. The fans enjoyed themselves and deserved this joy after recent poor performances at San Mames.
My teammates make my life easier and let me concentrate on doing what I enjoy doing most. I’m always happy to train every day, with the same enthusiasm. I feel comfortable with everyone. It’s impossible to find such a group.
Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti, via Football Espana:
The game was even. Athletic were compact, defended well and scored. Our problem is not a defensive one, but rather an attacking one. We haven’t found solutions. In two games, we’ve only scored a penalty. This is what we need to fix. We lack efficiency.
We played too individually and sought individual solutions, when we should’ve played faster, with less touches. It’s confusing what we’re doing. We’re playing too slowly, without good ball circulation, and the strikers can’t find spaces. It’s a timing issue.