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Athletic Bilbao vs. Real Madrid: Score and Reaction from 2015 La Liga Match

Tom Sunderland@@TomSunderland_Featured ColumnistSeptember 23, 2015

Real Madrid's Karim Benzema of France, celebrates after scoring against Athletic Bilbao, during their Spanish La Liga soccer match, at San Mames stadium in Bilbao, northern Spain, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)
Alvaro Barrientos/Associated Press

Real Madrid battled their way to a 2-1 win at Athletic Bilbao on Tuesday evening to reclaim the Liga summit on the same night that Barcelona suffered a 4-1 dismantling at the hands of Celta Vigo.

Karim Benzema notched a crucial brace for Rafa Benitez's side as Cristiano Ronaldo's search to break the club's all-time scoring record goes on, with Raul still sitting two goals ahead of the Portuguese talisman.

Athletic were set up to limit Los Blancos' run of chances in front of goal, but the plan worked to little effect as the visitors eventually made their glut of opportunities tell and come away with all three points to their name.

Alvaro Barrientos/Associated Press

Injured pair Sergio Ramos and Gareth Bale were absent for the midweek trip to Basque territory, but Benitez was pleased to see his side emerge with three points intact and continue their ascension.

While the consistency of Ronaldo's scoring may be in doubt this season, Real Madrid TV presenter Phil Kitromilides observed there are no such fears for Benzema following the Frenchman's 19th-minute opener:

Phil Kitromilides @PhilKitro

First time Karim Benzema has scored in five successive Real Madrid games since March 2011. Allez.

Mikel San Jose was to be held accountable for a grievous pass-back error that left Benzema through one-on-one with Athletic goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz, and the striker made no mistake from just seven yards out.

Despite being absent from the action himself, Bale was among those first to praise his in-form comrade after his first strike of the night:

Gareth Bale @GarethBale11

GOAL!! Benzema does it again ⚽️

But just as had been the case during the stalemate at Sporting Gijon and in the more recent win over Granada, Los Merengues struggled to make their great deal of chances count for much real impact.

The home side's tactic of packing players behind the ball meant they welcomed a wealth of pressure upon themselves, and Spanish newspaper AS provided a glimpse at the shot comparison at half-time:

AS English @English_AS

Shots on goal - Athletic Club 4 - Real Madrid 17 #ATHvRMA

If the clear-cut chances weren't coming, then the greatest concern for Benitez was to ensure his outfit weren't lulled into a sense of security as Athletic chased the equaliser.

That looked to be precisely the case, however, when Real's defenders found themselves pulled out of position for Sabin Merino to meet a Markel Susaeta cross at the back post and head his side level at 1-1.

It was a particularly sour moment for Real Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas to concede his first goal of the season, per Eurosport, falling agonisingly short of a 40-year-old club record:

Eurosport UK @Eurosport_UK

Keylor Navas was 5 minutes away from making the best La Liga start for a Real Madrid goalkeeper without conceding... http://t.co/UkVWSKfeap

It proved to be precisely the inspiration Real's players needed to wake back up, though, after Isco led a charge down the right flank just four minutes later and put the ball on a plate for Benzema's second of the night.

Athletic persisted in knocking at Real's door in the hopes of clinching an upset, but Real's march continued as they sewed up a fifth consecutive victory since stumbling at Gijon in their league opener.

Alvaro Barrientos/Associated Press

Barcelona's almighty upset in Galicia means Real now sit level on points with Celta Vigo at the top of the table, but with a far superior goal difference to set them apart.

Benitez's side play host to Malaga on Saturday in what could be a tricky encounter against a team absolutely desperate to clinch their first win of the new campaign.

Matters don't get any easier for Ernesto Valverde's Athletic side, either, who make the short trip to Real Sociedad on Sunday for the first Basque derby of the season, with both teams searching for their second win.  

Post-Match Reaction

Francisco Seco/Associated Press

It was no shock to see goal hero Benzema take the majority of his manager's plaudits following the 201 win over Athletic on Wednesday night, where the striker was in the right place at the right time to steer his side to three points.

Benitez lifted the lid on certain targets he and Benzema had set prior to the season getting underway, per FourFourTwo, which the attacker now looks well on his way to hitting:

"Benzema is a great player. He is a different number nine. He and Cristiano [Ronaldo] have become a very good pairing, and when they are near the area they are very dangerous. I told him that the target is 20-25 goals and he is on the right track."

The Real tactician went on to admit that while Los Blancos could have been more incisive with their finishing at San Mames, he's pleased to see momentum building as they move back to the summit of La Liga:

The team has gained confidence. Everyone said that this was a test we had to pass. I'm happy because we won and the team has shown two faces - quality in the first half and character in the second. We lacked precision in the final shot or pass but we made up for that with our character. The quality of the players is what makes a difference.