Real Madrid’s chances of defending their league crown will come down to the final matchday as a Nacho goal helped take down Athletic Club 1-0 on Sunday evening in Bilbao.
The defender struck for the lone goal midway through the second half and actually had Los Blancos temporarily in first place, with Osasuna ahead of Atletico, but a comeback win from Los Colchoneros means Real Madrid will still need to win in next week’s finale versus Villarreal and hope for an Atletico slip-up at Real Valladolid.
The only change in the starting XI of Zinedine Zidane from the midweek win over Granada was Alvaro Odriozola coming in for Marvin at right-back. Otherwise, it was as you were for the French boss.
There was not much in the way of chances through the first part of the first half, but suddenly controversy erupted when an attempted cross from Odriozola from the right struck the arm of Athletic man Jon Morcillo inside the area. In the end, referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz and VAR concluded that it was not a penalty, much to the dismay of the men in white.
Athletic were going toe-to-toe with the title contenders and Alex Berenguer had arguably the best chance of the first 45 minutes when he whipped in a freekick that skidded just wide of Thibaut Courtois’ post.
The tension started to mount as time neared the hour mark and with things still unchanged between Atletico and Osasuna back in Madrid. Real Madrid were creeping closer to a goal and, moments after Marco Asensio came on for Vinicius just shy of the hour mark, Casemiro came within a whisker with a header that thumped the crossbar.
The pressure from the visitors continued and they would get the breakthrough with a little more than 20 minutes remaining when Athletic failed to clear their lines, allowing Casemiro to cross and Nacho was able to redirect in.
Real Madrid catapulted to the top of the table with the goal, and they got a bit more of a cushion when word filtered out that Budimir scored for Osasuna to put Atletico down 1-0.
Zidane went back to his bench, with Eden Hazard on for Rodrygo in hopes of finding some late insurance, but it was Athletic almost scoring when a Mikel Vesga header flashed just wide of the post.
Athletic’s chances of pulling level got more difficult in the waning minutes when Raul Garcia got sent off, but the news coming from the capital city wasn’t good for Real Madrid, with Luis Suarez scoring Atletico’s second of the night.
Real Madrid were never really in jeopardy though of conceding an equalizer as they saw things out but, after sitting atop the table for a good chunk of the second stanza, Zidane’s men ended the day in the exact same spot where they started.
0.- Athletic Club: Unai Simon; De Marcos, Yeray, Inigo, Balenziaga; Berenguer, Dani García (Vesga, min. 65), Vencedor (Unai Lopez, min. 72), Morcillo (Raul Garcia, min. 65); Williams (Villalibre, min. 65), Sancet (Ibai Gomez, min. 72).
1.- Real Madrid: Courtois; Odriozola, Militao, Nacho, Miguel; Casemiro, Modric, Valverde; Rodrygo (Hazard, min. 77), Vinicius (Marco Asensio, min. 59), Benzema.
Goals: 0-1, min. 68: Nacho
Referee: Mateu Lahoz (Valencia).
Yellow cards: Berenguer (Min. 14) for Athletic, Raul Garcia (Min. 79) for Athletic, Inigo Martinez (Min. 80) for Athletic, Nacho (Min. 83) for Real Madrid
Red cards: Raul Garcia (Min. 89) for Athletic
Stadium: San Mames