Real Madrid kicked off their La Liga campaign with a comfortable 2-0 win away at Athletic Club on Saturday night.
Goals from Rodrygo and debutant Jude Bellingham set Los Blancos on their way in El Viejo Clasico.
Athletic Club failed to make the most of Los Blancos’ early struggles and ultimately did not trouble their visitors enough on a testing night for the hosts at Estadio San Mames.
How the game unfolded
Real Madrid’s lack of natural striker severely limited their chance creation early on. It wasn’t until the 24th minute when Athletic Club goalkeeper Unai Simon was first called action, quickly reacting to deny David Alaba from a deceptive free-kick under the wall.
Nevertheless, the visitors took the lead just before the half-hour mark. Captain Dani Carvajal showed tremendous endeavour to rescue a loose ball ahead of Mikel Vesga, returning the ball to Rodrygo to lash in at Simon’s near post.
Shortly after, Real Madrid went close to adding a second, with Alaba again bringing a save out of Simon, this time with a clever flick-on from a corner.
Simon made another crucial save moments later. Vinicius Junior – to this point subdued by Athletic Club’s aggressive defending – danced away from the wily Oscar de Marcos and Daniel Vivian, though was denied by the goalkeeper.
But Athletic Club were made to pay from the following corner. Alaba’s corner was struck first-time by Bellingham, whose volley into the ground allowed the ball to bounce over Simon and into the top corner.
The hosts should have pulled one back almost immediately from kick-off when Unai Gomez caught Fran Garcia in possession but his close-range shot was scuffed and saved by Andriy Lunin. Eder Militao brought him down in the action of blocking, but appeals for a penalty were dismissed.
In the second half, Athletic Club began to control possession a bit more, though they allowed huge gaps of space for Real Madrid to attack in transition.
One such chance saw Vinicius released into the penalty area by a penetrative pass from Bellingham, but Simon was able to get down low and palm away the shot.
Oihan Sancet brought a flying block out of Alaba with a sharp snap-shot midway through the second half as Athletic Club sought to get a foothold in the game.
Real Madrid were furious that a foul was not called when Toni Kroos was robbed of the ball by Inigo de Galarreta, teeing up Alex Berenguer to strike, only for Aurelien Tchouameni to fly in with a goal-saving block.
Carlo Ancelotti’s men were able to see out the rest of the evening with little trouble and return to the Spanish capital with all three points.
GK: Unai Simon (7); RB: Oscar de Marcos (4), CB: Daniel Vivian (4), CB: Aitor Paredes (5), LB: Inigo Lekue (4); CM: Inigo de Galarreta (5), CM: Mikel Vesga (4), RM: Nico Williams (5), AM: Unai Gomez (6), LM: Iker Muniain (4); CF: Inaki Williams (5)
SUBS: Oihan Sancet (5), Gorka Guruzeta (5), Alex Berenguer (5), Ander Herrera (5), Imanol Garcia (N/A)
Manager: Ernesto Valverde – 5/10
GK: Andriy Lunin – 6/10 – Drafted in for only his tenth La Liga game since joining Real Madrid in 2018. Didn’t have a lot to do, in truth.
RB: Dani Carvajal – 8/10 – Demonstrated his boundless energy which ultimately leading to Real Madrid’s opener. Led from the back.
CB: Eder Militao – 6/10 – Held his own for the most part before being withdrawn with a nasty injury at the start of the second half.
CB: David Alaba – 8/10 – Popped up all over the pitch breaking up play and progressing the ball. A threat both taking set pieces and meeting them.
LB: Fran Garcia – 5/10 – Looked like a dear in headlights during the first half but slowly grew into the game.
CM: Aurelien Tchouameni – 7/10 – A calm and composed display in the middle of the park. Produced un unbelievable block to deny Berenguer late on.
CM: Federico Valverde – 7/10 – Real Madrid’s desire to play into the channels suited Valverde’s game perfectly, linking up with Rodrygo down the right and forcing his way forward with ease.
CM: Eduardo Camavinga – 7/10 – Likewise used his athleticism to bounce up and down the pitch.
AM: Jude Bellingham – 9/10 – A true Galactico. Flittered between the lines and buzzed all over. Deserving of his debut goal.
CF: Rodrygo – 8/10 – Played on the fringes for the most part but his first-half goal proved crucial, breathing life into Real Madrid when they looked short of confidence in their new system.
CF: Vinicius Junior – 6/10 – Tried his hardest to get the ball down and beat a man, but wasn’t always successful and missed the presence of a proper striker.
SUB: Antonio Rudiger (50′ for Militao) – 6/10
SUB: Tomi Kroos (71′ for Camavinga) – 5/10
SUB: Luka Modric (79′ for Rodrygo) – N/A
SUB: Joselu (79′ for Vinicius) – N/A
Subs not used: Gonzalez (GK), Canizares (GK), Nacho, Lucas, Odriozola, Brahim
Carlo Ancelotti – 7/10 – Real Madrid were calm and professional in their performance, but a lack of a top striker could come to haunt them later this season.