Nacho Fernandez’s second-half goal ensured Real Madrid still have a chance of retaining their LaLiga title on the final day of the season as they beat Athletic Bilbao 1-0, but Atletico Madrid remain in the driving seat.
Madrid briefly looked to be going into their last match of 2020-21 at the top of the table after Nacho fortuitously put them in front while Atletico trailed, but Diego Simeone’s men enjoyed a late turnaround against Osasuna to stay two points clear.
The build-up to Madrid’s trip to San Mames had centred around reports Zinedine Zidane will leave at the end of the season, and for much of the game his team looked incapable of clinching the victory that could set up a triumphant conclusion for the French coach.
But with 22 minutes to go, Nacho bundled home what proved to be the winner, though Atletico’s battling comeback at the Wanda Metropolitano means Madrid will need a helping hand if they are to be champions again, while Barcelona’s chances are over following a 2-1 home defeat by Celta Vigo.
Despite dominating possession, Madrid had little to get excited about in the early exchanges. It was not until the 28th minute that Los Blancos threatened and they were adamant a penalty should have been awarded as Alvaro Odriozola’s cross struck the arm of Jon Morcillo.
While a VAR review saw the decision go in Athletic’s favour, the resulting corner at least saw Karim Benzema go close as he nodded wide.
Madrid had another penalty call ignored a few minutes later, with Benzema and Yeray Alvarez tangling as the Frenchman tried to reach a delivery from deep.
The visitors looked similarly toothless at the start of the second period before Luka Modric seemed to jolt them into life in the 58th minute, his long-range strike tipped wide by Unai Simon.
Casemiro then headed against the crossbar just after the hour mark as Madrid upped the intensity, and their increased pressure led to a breakthrough soon after.
Casemiro was again involved, his fierce pass across the face of goal striking the thigh of Nacho – who knew little about it – and past Simon, with officials refusing to disallow it despite the ball squirming under the foot of the offside Benzema.
Madrid had little difficulty seeing the victory out, particularly after Raul Garcia’s 89th-minute dismissal for dissent, but it was not enough to take them top as Atletico moved a step closer to the title.
What does it mean? Madrid hoping for a miracle
It was all looking rather rosy for Madrid. At least it was for about 20 minutes anyway, with Nacho’s goal sparking bedlam among players and staff, with news of Ante Budimir’s opener against Atletico subsequently finding its way to the bench.
Even Renan Lodi’s equaliser did not put Atletico back in the driving seat – that moment came in the 88th minute when Luis Suarez converted, and some of the reactions by Madrid players at full-time were those of resignation.
Madrid’s hopes – assuming they beat a Villarreal side that crushed Sevilla 4-0 – now lay at the feet of Real Valladolid, who themselves need a victory to avoid relegation. It is all set up to be quite the conclusion.
Modric a cool customer amid the chaos
In truth, it was a largely scrappy match devoid of outstanding individual performances, but Modric was once again a cut above the majority – if not all – of his team-mates. The Croatian tried to take matters into his own hands with a couple of decent efforts, while his tally of four key passes was twice as many as anyone else on the pitch.
Rodrygo goes unnoticed
Aside from an early flash or two, Rodrygo was disappointing. He kept his place in the Madrid starting XI after scoring against Granada, but he was much quieter this time around. His 47 touches was the second-lowest total among Madrid starters and he was replaced in the 77th minute.
Key Opta facts
– Athletic have won just one of their last 23 meetings with Madrid in LaLiga (D5 L17), 1-0 in March 2015 under Ernesto Valverde when Carlo Ancelotti was in charge of Los Blancos.
– Only Sevilla have earned more points (28) thanks to goals in the second half in LaLiga games this season than Madrid (25).
– Madrid have not lost any of their last 17 LaLiga games (W12 D5), their best unbeaten streak in a single league campaign under Zidane.
– Casemiro has provided four assists in LaLiga this season, his best tally in a single league campaign.
– Zidane has not lost any of his 10 games as Madrid coach against Athletic in LaLiga (W7 D3).
Madrid’s final chance of taking the crown is a home game against Villarreal next weekend, while Athletic go to an Elche side still in with a shout of avoiding relegation.
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