After a 19 day break Athletic were finally back in action on Saturday when they hosted Real Madrid at the San Mamés. As usual, the match promised fireworks and intensity and the two clubs did not disappoint. Players like Iker Muniain and Dani García were confident going into the game that they would be able to push their visitors and that is exactly what happened.
From the opening whistle Athletic showed that they were not afraid to attack Real Madrid. They were patient with the ball, especially in the midfield, and used their normal pressing style when they lost possession. For the first ten minutes the visitors struggled to find any type of rhythm while the home side were able to dictate the pace of play with Dani García leading the charge.
As time passed the game began to open up and that proved to be a difference maker for Athletic. The Lions hit on the counter and Markel Susaeta was able to play Oscar De Marcos in behind the defense. The right-back sent in a low cross where Iñaki Williams was able to get a piece of the ball before Iker Muniain finally finished off the chance to put Athletic up 1-0 in the 32nd minute.
Even though they had the lead Athletic refused to sit back and defend. They continued to attack which did allow Real Madrid to create their own chances. One free kick was saved by Unai Simón who spilled the ball and had to use his body to stop the second attempt. Minutes later Luca Modric blasted an effort at the bottom left corner of the goal that saw Simón lay out and get his hand on the ball to keep the clean sheet alive.
The first half finally came to an end with Athletic leading Real Madrid, but the Lions knew that there were a difficult 45 minutes facing them in the second half. Julen Lopetegui brought on Casemiro for Dani Ceballos after the break with hopes of stifling the Athletic midfield and it did change the flow of the game. Also, Iker Muniain suffered an ankle injury early on in the second half and had to leave the game.
Unai Simón was called on a few more times and was up to the challenge, but Real Madrid changed the game when Isco was brought on for Modric after the hour mark. Two minutes later Real Madrid would send in a cross from the right wing that sailed just over Iñigo Martinez and allowed Isco to head home the equalizer. With the score level Real Madrid went on the offense, but Athletic never shrunk back and were not afraid to attack either.
Chances came for Marco Asensio and Marcelo which was expertly saved by Simón and drama soon followed. A player on the ground caused a handball in the box and Athletic immediately began to appeal. Ander Capa was shown a yellow card and then tempers started to flare with others from both clubs eventually being cautioned as the game continued. The final opportunity came in stoppage time when Mikel Rico volleyed a shot that saw Thibaut Courtois make a diving save to keep the score level.
The final whistle soon sounded with Athletic having secured a point through the 1-1 draw, but it definitely felt more like a victory. The Lions had been the stronger side throughout the course of the entire game and players like Dani García, Unai Simón, Beñat, Oscar De Marcos, and others had stepped up in a major way. With a game in hand Athletic are sitting in a great spot in the La Liga table and will now turn their attention to next weekend’s fixture against Real Betis.