Casemiro superb as Real Madrid grab impressive win at Athletic Club
Real Madrid claimed a hard-fought 2-1 victory in San Mames, a ground where the home side always put up fierce resistance when the capital club pay a visit. Karim Benzema opened the scoring before Aritz Aduriz levelled for Athletic in the second half, but Real were equal for only a matter of minutes until Casemiro hammered home a short-range finish to seal a valuable three points.
Real weathered an early storm from the home side and gradually exerted influence in midfield, with Casemiro in full attack mode. After going behind, Zidane's side reacted swiftly and decisively to Athletic's equaliser coming. This was also Real's toughest remaining away fixture, and emerging from it with three points was another important step towards the title.
Defensively, Madrid were far from solid, and Athletic created more chances than the visitors. Luka Modric's mini-slump in form continued in San Mames, with the Croatian struggling to get into the game and being taken off with half an hour to play.
Manager rating out of 10
7 -- Zidane fielded the side that was to be expected and made the right decision to replace Modric with Lucas Vazquez, who added a bit of zip to the right flank where the winner eventually came from.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best; players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Keylor Navas, 7 -- This was a performance Navas needed. The keeper made two decent saves from Inaki Williams and Aduriz in the second half but was perhaps guilty of following the ball to concede. Had he remained where he was, he'd have been perfectly placed to deny Aduriz.
DF Marcelo, 6 -- Marcelo should have hit the target from point-blank range in the second half to make it 3-1 and finish the game off, while he also suffered at the hands of Williams all afternoon, constantly forced onto the back foot.
DF Dani Carvajal, 7 -- Carvajal was solid at the back and effective going forward, teeing up Ronaldo early on for the Portugal star's offside goal. He made a strong and important challenge on Aduriz in the first half, leaving the combative striker on his backside.
DF Nacho, 7 -- Nacho made the airspace in Real's area his own and led the side in aerial duels won -- no easy task against Aduriz and Raul Garcia. He was caught between a rock and a hard place for the goal, but this was another quality performance.
DF Sergio Ramos, 8 -- A free header on 19 minutes with no marker? Surely Athletic would have trained for that, but the captain nudged his effort wide. A good all-around game was marred a little by his positioning for Aduriz's goal, but he put in a captain's performance against very physical opposition.
MF Toni Kroos, 7 -- Kroos provided some excellent service from set-pieces and stepped into the breach in midfield with three tackles and a yellow for an ugly challenge on Aymeric Laporte that drew nothing more than a shrug from the German.
MF Luka Modric, 5 -- This was one of the Croatian's poorest games of the season and a nice ball here or a back-heel there could not disguise the fact that he was barely involved. Made little protest when he was hooked on the hour mark.
MF Casemiro, 9 -- The Brazilian was lucky to escape a yellow for a terrible challenge on Williams and duly got one as part of a running battle with Aduriz. The ugly side to his game was balanced with some jogo bonito in a glorious pass for Ronaldo in the build-up to the opening goal. He provided the winner and tormented Athletic in midfield all afternoon.
FW Karim Benzema, 8 -- This was almost vintage stuff from Benzema but for a couple of loose controls in promising positions. He took his goal deftly, had a wonderful interchange with Marcelo capped with a mazy run into the box and put his colleagues through with some pinpoint passing in the first half.
FW Gareth Bale, 5 -- Bale looked a little rusty after his suspension. The Welshman stung Kepa Arrizabalaga's hands with a decent first-half effort. Pitched in at the back in aid of Marcelo, but he did little of note in the opposition half.
FW Cristiano Ronaldo, 8 -- Ronaldo provided the flick for Casemiro's goal and a sumptuous assist for Benzema's strike. Although he has still yet to score in the new San Mames after four attempts, he was instrumental in Real's victory.
FW Lucas Vazquez, 7 -- On for Modric with half an hour to play, one statistic is sufficient. Modric made no tackles during the game, while Vazquez managed four. Only Casemiro made more for either side.
MF Isco, NR -- On for Ronaldo with 10 minutes to play, Isco lost the ball in his own half in stoppage time trying to trick his way out of trouble when he should have sent it out of the stadium.
FW Alvaro Morata, NR -- On for Benzema with just five minutes to play, as is his lot, Morata could have no complaints on this occasion.
Rob Train covers Real Madrid and the Spanish national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @Cafc13Rob.