Athletic Bilbao 1-0 Real Madrid: Hosts secure shock victory as leaders falter

The current La Liga leaders Real Madrid travelled to the San Mamés in Bilbao, with a tough fixture up against their Basque hosts. Their closest title challengers Barcelona, who narrowly missed out on league glory last campaign, were not in action until Sunday afternoon, so Carlo Ancelotti's men had a golden opportunity to open up the gap between the two fierce rivals at the top with a victory away at Athletic Bilbao

With that being said, the game was never going to be a guaranteed three points for the visitors, the common misconception in this league, given how it is perceived to be a three-horse race for the title every year (Barca, Real and Atlético Madrid).

Bilbao proved this from the first whistle, as they stayed disclipined defensively and managed to shut out the likes of Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo attacking-wise, especially for large parts of the first 45 minutes. Benzema's early half-chance was wide of the mark, but that was the only real goal-scoring opportunity that Los Blancos had in the opening minutes. In the 26th minute, the hosts hit Real with a quick-paced move to devastating effect. A teasing cross into the box by Mikel Rico found targetman Aritz Aduriz inside the box, and his headed effort swerved beyond Spanish experienced goalkeeper Casillas into the bottom corner of the net to break the deadlock with style. 

The intensity of the game increased significantly after Aduriz' opener, with German midfielder Toni Kroos and the goalscorer himself going into the referee's book just minutes after the deadlock was broken after a late tackle on full-back Iraola prompted an angry reaction from the 34-year-old foward. Etxeita and Illarramendi were also booked before the half-time interval, for late tackles on tricky wingers Ronaldo and Iker Muniain respectively, before a Real counter attack was snuffed out by a rather solid Bilbao defence with seconds to play of normal time.

As the second-half began, Real upped the ante. Ronaldo came close within minutes of the restart, but was denied by a crucial touch away to safety by Bilbao's goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz whilst full-back Mikel Balenziaga made an important sliding challenge to deny Benzema from close range. 

The first substitution of the game came in the 64th minute, as Muniain was replaced by Susaeta in a like-for-like change. Bilbao were being pressurised to the max, but continued to hold firm as the clock ticked down. Benzema was replaced by "super sub" Javier Hernandez in a last-ditch attempt to salvage a point for Ancelotti's side, which proved ineffective in the end. A rather audacious effort from long range by Bale clipped the crossbar, as he saw Iraizoz off his line and decided to strike with seven minutes plus stoppages to play. 

Despite a late charge from the visitors, Bilbao were efficient enough to hold it together defensively, and record a clean sheet as well as a famous victory which means the league leaders lose grip on their closest rivals Barcelona, who will be looking to their next fixture against Rayo Vallecano knowing a win tomorrow will move them back to the top of the table. 

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