Barcelona beware: Benzema's getting back to his best! Real Madrid winners, losers & ratings from vital win in Bilbao

Comments (0)
Karim Benzema Real Madrid HIC 16:9
Despite his Ballon d'Or win, the Frenchman has had a trying season, but he scored his sixth goal in six games in Sunday's 2-0 win at Athletic Club.

Even Carlo Ancelotti celebrated.

Real Madrid had been under pressure for 20 painful minutes before Karim Benzema scored, swivelling his body towards goal before guiding a left-footed volley into the bottom corner, with his manager punching the air in joy.

And with good reason.

Benzema's goal, his sixth in six games, broke the deadlock in an otherwise edgy contest with Athletic Club on Sunday night, paving the way for a 2-0 win that keeps Madrid within touching distance of Barcelona in the La Liga title race.

Madrid didn't quite have their typical control against a direct Athletic side. The home team created more and stretched Madrid's back line with regularity.

But Los Blancos were kept in the game by a magnificent performance from Eduardo Camavinga. The 20-year-old controlled the midfield almost single-handedly, roaming around the centre circle, flying into tackles and launching attacks.

Toni Kroos may have been the midfielder to add a second goal in the 90th minute, but Sunday's result was down to Camavinga's maturity and Benzema' early composure.

Below, GOAL runs through the winners and losers from a vital victory that drags Madrid back to within three points of Liga leaders Barcelona...

  1. The Winners

    The Winners

    Karim Benzema:

    It's actually been a trying season to date for the Ballon d'Or holder. Benzema has struggled with injury and is caught in the drama around the French national team. Off-field controversy has marred his goalscoring achievements. Meanwhile, Madrid's poor form hasn't helped. But, very quietly, he's been on a hot streak. After his volley today, Benzema now has six goals in his last six games, and his strike-rate is almost on par with his record-setting pace from last year. It's been lost in Madrid's poor form, but their star Frenchman is steadily getting back to his very best, which will be absolutely crucial if Los Blancos are to replicate any of last year's magic.

    Marco Asensio:

    Asensio's inclusion isn't just about the assist he provided. This game required some grit, some competition, and the winger, not known for his defensive work rate, was a constant source of energy on Sunday evening. He supported the unsteady nacho, tracking back and tackling relentlessly. His work on the ball was also helpful, as the winger created two chances and was unafraid to run at tiring defenders. Asensio certainly isn't first-choice, and he will have to fight for opportunities off the bench going forward, but this was a spirited performance, right when his club needed it.

    Eduardo Camavinga:

    Does Ancelotti know what Camavinga's best position is? Does Camavinga even have a best position? In showings like this, it doesn't necessarily matter what the French international's specific starting point is. Here, he filled a role more than occupying a space, running around, tackling, and recycling possession. Camavinga certainly has a lot of development to come, but when deployed in this kind of disruptive role, he can be immensely effective. His performance was absolutely integral to the victory.

  2. The Losers

    The Losers

    Antonio Rudiger:

    Inaki Williams was always going to be a tricky match-up. But Rudiger made marking the big striker far more difficult than it had to be. The German defender continued a poor run of form here, giving the ball away too often, and failing to recover, leaving centre-back partner Eder Militao a lot of work to do. He had some better moments later in the game, including a well-timed block in the box, but his performance was marked by misplaced passes and lost duels.

    Nico Williams:

    It was a frustrating night for the young winger, who likely would have fancied his chances against a struggling Ferland Mendy. But it didn't quite come off for him. Williams tallied four shots and created one big chance, yet failed to link up with the rest of the Athletic front line with any consistency. There were almost some remarkable moments, highlighted by an impressive run and curled shot that flew just wide of the post. But it was an otherwise disappointing showing. An opportunity missed.


    The Brazilian winger was left out of the XI as Ancelotti shuffled his squad. Federico Valverde went to centre-midfield, leaving the right-wing role open. Instead, Ancelotti handed it to the out-of-form Asensio, leaving Rodrygo to watch from the bench. And Asensio made the most of his opportunity, putting in a quality shift and also adding an assist. Rodrygo did make an impact off the bench, and provided the pass for Kroos' goal, but he was only afforded seven minutes on the pitch. It's tough to see where Rodrygo fits when Benzema is fit, as Valverde tends to occupy the right wing, while Vinicius is a guarantee on the left. And although the Brazilian did his part, being left on the bench was perhaps indicative of where he lies in Ancelotti's plans.

  3. Real Madrid Ratings: Defence

    Real Madrid Ratings: Defence

    Thibaut Courtois (7/10):

    Dived to his right for an impressive save inside 10 minutes. Made another big stop to keep his side ahead with 10 minutes remaining. Another top showing.

    Nacho (7/10):

    Filled in for the injured Dani Carvajal, and acquitted himself well. Not always the most adventurous going forward, but very reliable defensively, which was crucial on the day.

    Eder Militao (7/10):

    The better of Madrid's two centre-backs. Won all but one of his aerial duels and ran down the rapid Inaki Williams a few times.

    Antonio Rudiger (6/10):

    Forced into the XI with David Alaba injured, and failed to impress. Will need to improve; Alaba is out for another two weeks.

    Ferland Mendy (7/10):

    Kept Nico Williams mostly under wraps, and tallied the most tackles on the pitch. Much better from the left-back.

  4. Midfield


    Federico Valverde (6/10):

    Lots of running, some nice passes, one rash shot. Better, but still far from his best.

    Eduardo Camavinga (8/10):

    Ancelotti is still trying to figure out his best position. It doesn't matter when Camavinga is this impactful, though. Hugely influential on the night.

    Dani Ceballos (6/10):

    Given a chance to prove that his star cameo against Villarreal could be built on. But didn't offer much in an attacking sense. Tidy, but typically unspectacular.

  5. Attack


    Marco Asensio (7/10):

    Got himself an assist for winning a header in the build-up to Benzema's opener. Was also energetic off the ball and reliable defensively. A performance that suggested he deserves to be on the pitch more.

    Karim Benzema (8/10)
    Followed an early miss with a sublime volley to give Madrid a 1-0 lead. Missed one or two other chances but cannot be faulted. Six in six for the star striker.

    Vinicius Jr. (6/10):

    Made a string of opposing defenders look very silly, but didn't create a chance or impact the game much in the final third.

  6. Subs & Manager

    Subs & Manager

    Luka Modric (6/10):

    Was subbed on with 25 minutes remaining, and then swiftly disappeared. Yet to find his best after a stunning World Cup.

    Rodrygo (7/10):

    Grabbed himself an assist, but will have been disappointed not to start.

    Toni Kroos (7/10):

    Had five touches. One of them was a lovely goal.

    Carlo Ancelotti (8/10):

    Made a brave call by starting an inexperienced midfield trio, and it just about worked out. Ancelotti is constrained by Madrid's injury issues at the moment, but his side have now won two tricky games in a row, while managing to rest some ageing legs. Job done, Atleti next.