Karim Benzema’s sixth goal in five matches against Athletic Bilbao and Toni Kroos’ late strike helped Real Madrid to extend their unbeaten run against Los Leones to eight matches in La Liga with a 2-0 victory at Estadio San Mamés.
Athletic Bilbao had little to cheer so far in 2023 as a three-match winless run in La Liga, capped by a 3-1 Basque derby loss against Real Sociedad last time out added to Los Leones’ new year woes. But Bilbao sensed an opportunity to take on a Real Madrid side that lost two of their last three away league matches and the home side started at blistering speed in front of a packed Estadio San Mamés. Aitor Paredes was first to test Thibaut Courtois with a flicked header before Iñaki Williams fizzed a powerful 20-yard strike just past the post in the opening 20 minutes.
Starting on the backfoot barely fazed Real Madrid and a moment of quality from Karim Benzema suddenly gave Los Blancos the lead against the run of play. Marco Asensio’s high, lofted header in the penalty area was watched all the way by Benzema, who thumped a first-time left-footed volley straight past a motionless Unai Simón for an 18th career goal against Bilbao.
With their four-match unbeaten run at home in all competitions under threat, Bilbao had to stage a comeback, but Madrid started the second half with more momentum and Nacho Fernández forced Simón into a point-blank save. Bilbao refused to admit defeat and pushed for a leveller in the closing stages as an unmarked Nico Williams dragged his shot wide from 10 yards and Iñaki Williams fired into the net from close range only for the goal to be ruled out for offside before substitute Kroos finished a flowing Madrid counter-attack with a low strike past Simón.
Eventually, Bilbao were made to rue their missed chances throughout. The defeat now leaves Ernesto Valverde’s side winless in four La Liga matches and they have slipped to eighth in the table. Benzema’s moment of magic and Kroos’ deadly finish proved decisive as the duo haunted Bilbao as Los Blancos move within three points of league leaders Barcelona.