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Three lessons learned from Real Madrid 2-0 Athletic Club

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Photo by PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/AFP via Getty Images

One of Real Madrid’s most daunting fixtures of the league calendar passed rather smoothly on Sunday night when they took on Athletic Club at home.

With their Cup final later this week, Ernesto Valverde’s men were very cautious with their approach to the game, thus playing the cards to Real Madrid’s favour.

A 2-0 win was the final result that emerged from the 90-minute tussle, as Carlo Ancelotti’s men retained their eight-point lead at the top of the table.

With only eight league games left to go, the title is inching closer to having the Merengues’ name etched on it.

Madrid Universal brings you three lessons learned from Real Madrid 2-0 Athletic Club.

A favourable change in position

Vinicius Jr.’s suspension against Athletic Club was expected to play a big role in how Real Madrid approached the fixture. After all, the Brazilian has been the engine in the Merengues’ attack for several games now.

Brahim Diaz took Vincius’ spot in the starting lineup as expected, with Jude Bellingham returning to the XI after suspension as well. The novelty in Carlo Ancelotti’s approach, however, came in the positioning of Rodrygo Goes.

The Brazilian phenom, who has played on the right flank all season, was given a run on the left flank. Replacing Vinicius Jr in his niche, he took over the responsibility from his compatriot and shone like none other.

The 23-year-old was Real Madrid’s best player by far last night, constantly threatening the Basque defence with his menacing runs. 

Just eight minutes after kickoff, the youngster scored an absolute gobsmacker to give his side the lead. Receiving the ball on the left flank, he cut onto his right foot and sent a curling shot right into the top corner from the edge of the box.

In 81 minutes, the Brazilian phenom completed two dribbles, created one big chance and had one shot on target. Furthermore, he even recorded two key passes on the night.

Rodrygo added the icing to the cake with a superb finish in the second half, completing his brace and earning the man of the match award.

The change in position thus worked well for Rodrygo and will go a long way in boosting his confidence. He will, however, be forced to return to the right in upcoming games with Vini’s return.

A hero’s return

Eder Militao returned to action. (Photo by Florencia Tan Jun/Getty Images)

Away from all the hard-fought action that unfolded at the Santiago Bernabeu last night, there was an event in extra-time that got the stadium on its feet.

Indeed, Eder Militao made his much-awaited return from injury last night as he came on to replace Dani Carvajal in the 92nd minute. He was on the field for just one minute, but those 60 seconds sent the Bernabeu and the player through a roller-coaster of emotions.

The past year has not been easy for the Brazilian defender. An injury against Athletic Club on Matchday 1 ruled him out of action for close to the entire season, and he has spent months dreaming of a potential return this season.

After eight months of relentless effort on the sidelines, unexpected setbacks and more hard work, Militao made the squad to face the same team he was injured against.

Rightly so, Ancelotti ensured that the poetic return could happen as he allowed the player to step on the grasses of the Bernabeu last night.

Real Madrid must not look to rush matters with the Brazilian, for managing his minutes and incorporating him slowly will be key in preventing any relapses. Now that the process of his return has begun, fans can look forward to longer cameos by the star defender.

Real Madrid are ready

El Clasico is usually the highlight of the footballing calendar for both Barcelona and Real Madrid. Yet, it will only be the third most important game Los Blancos play in April.

The highlight of Real Madrid’s calendar for April is the Champions League tie against Manchester City. Fighting for a place in the final four, both sides will take to the field twice this month, the first of which is the team’s next game.

With less than ten days left before they lock horns with Pep Guardiola’s side, it is safe to say that Real Madrid are ready for the big game.

The team was far from its best version in February, grinding out narrow wins from unconvincing games.

The comfortable win over Athletic Club last night, however, capped off a run of three straight dominant wins for Los Blancos. Having beaten Celta Vigo and Osasuna 4-0 and 4-2 respectively, they carried forward the momentum with a convincing 2-0 win over Ernesto Valverde’s side.

The confidence Real Madrid exuded on Sunday night testifies that the men in white are ready for the big game. A nine-day hiatus will only help further their preparation for the game.

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Features

Real Madrid 3-2 FC Barcelona – Player Ratings

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Photo by JAVIER SORIANO/AFP via Getty Images

Still fatigued from their weary 120 minutes midweek against Manchester City, Real Madrid took on Barcelona at the Santiago Bernabeu earlier today in a fascinating clash.

Unlike the two previous games between the two sides this season, tonight’s Clasico was a very tight affair with both teams having their chances to steal the show. 

Andreas Christensen opened the scoring for Barcelona early in the night, giving the visitors the lead. A clean penalty conversion from Vinicius Jr, however, soon pulled one back for Los Blancos.

Fermin Lopez’s goal gave the Catalans the lead once more in the second period but the advantage was short-lived as Lucas Vazquez cut the deficit once more.

In the end, Jude Bellingham scored an injury-time winner for the men in white and Real Madrid got the result they required. The league title now appears written in their name.

Madrid Universal brings you the player ratings from El Clasico.

Andriy Lunin: 5

A relatively shaky night for the Ukrainian shot-stopper who never really looked confident with his saves. Was very poor in Andreas Christensen’s opener with his decision-making and came very close to conceding to a Lamine Yamal flick in the first half. 

Was directly at fault for the Blaugranas’ second goal of the night as he pushed the ball straight into the path of Fermin Lopez.

Lucas Vazquez: 10

A strong display from the Spanish full-back who once again showed that he is a potent force in the final third. Won the penalty for Real Madrid after some masterful trickery on the flank, setting up the team’s equaliser.

Found a stunning half-volley to stun Barcelona minutes after their second goal, levelling the scores once more. Was vital in the buildup for the team’s winner as well.

Sensational. (Photo by THOMAS COEX/AFP via Getty Images)

Aurelien Tchouameni: 6.5

The French centre-back was presumably chosen for his prowess in the air but was nowhere to be seen when Christensen netted Barcelona’s opener. Was regularly poor in defending against set pieces, especially at the far post.

Antonio Rudiger: 7

The German centre-back led the team’s defensive unit but was also far from his best on the night. Did not make any glaring mistakes, but fatigue is likely to have impacted his influence.

Eduardo Camavinga: 6

The young phenom started the game well and was a lively presence in the final third. However, he soon began to struggle to keep up with Barcelona’s Lamine Yamal who began running havoc down the flank.

Was caught napping for Yamal’s cross that set up Barcelona’s second goal of the night and was dribbled past twice. Replaced by Fran Garcia at the 70-minute mark.

Federico Valverde: 7

Real Madrid’s midfield machine was undoubtedly fatigued on the night, yet came out at the team’s most valuable asset off the ball.

Completed seven defensive actions and 92% of his passes, executing his duties well.

Toni Kroos: 8

Sitting deep in the defensive midfield, Kroos was instrumental in holding the fortress for Real Madrid on the break. Silky smooth as ever with his distribution and creativity, combined with some no-nonsense defending.

Luka Modric: 8

Showing his quality. (Photo by Florencia Tan Jun/Getty Images)

A good showing from the Croatian talisman who controlled the midfield alongside Kroos and Valverde throughout the first half. 

Jude Bellingham: 9

A much-improved performance from the Golden Boy who has been under scrutiny in recent weeks for his dip in form.

Bellingham was vital on the break for Real Madrid, dictating the attacking play of the team. He was immaculate with his passing range and completed 100% of his attempted dribbles.

Of all the Real Madrid players, Bellingham was likely the one who put in the biggest defensive shift when out of possession. Found the back of the net in emphatic fashion in the final minutes of the game to give his side the win.

Vinicius Jr: 8

Another Clasico goal. (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO/AFP via Getty Images)

Not the Brazilian phenom’s best night on the grasses of the Santiago Bernabeu as he struggled to conjure up much on the counters. Regardless, he scored a vital penalty and even came close to assisting Rodrygo twice in the first half.

Laid the ball on a platter for Lucas Vazquez, setting up the team’s second goal.

Rodrygo Goes: 7

While Rodrygo did not enjoy too much freedom in the final third either, his runs between the lines often created problems for the visitors. Yet, one felt Real Madrid should have capitalised more on the 23-year-old’s presence in the final third.

SUBSTITUTES

Brahim Diaz: 7

Brought life to Real Madrid’s counterattacks after coming on, although he did not really get into the game considering Los Blancos’ defence-heavy strategy.

Fran Garcia: 7

Did relatively well to defend against Yamal, and demonstrated more defensive awareness than Camavinga.

Eder Militao: NA

Came on too late to make a tangible impact.

Joselu: NA

Came on too late to make a tangible impact.

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