Real Madrid lack cutting edge in attack and other talking points from Athletic Bilbao draw

Andy West 3/12/2017
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A frustrating night for Ronaldo.

Real Madrid missed the chance to close the gap on Barcelona at the top of the La Liga table to six points following a goalless draw at Athletic Bilbao on Saturday night.

Here, we look at the key talking points from the San Mamés Stadium.

NO RESPITE FOR REAL MADRID

With his team under pressure following a poor run of form, Zinedine Zidane sent out Real Madrid for Saturday’s game in Bilbao with the motivation of catching up two points on Barcelona after the leaders drew 2-2 with Celta Vigo earlier in the day. It was a great opportunity for Los Blancos to make up some lost ground, but they couldn’t take it after being held to a frustrating goalless draw.

And in truth, although they hit the post twice through Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo, the point was about all they deserved. It could have been worse, in fact, with returning goalkeeper Keylor Navas making some decent saves to preserve a clean sheet.

This wasn’t a terrible performance from Zidane’s men but they should have created more clear chances considering the amount of possession they enjoyed, and the reliance upon crosses by full-backs Marcelo and Dani Carvajal is a cause for concern. The return of Marco Asensio and Gareth Bale from injury could not come quick enough – and Zidane should also certainly consider giving more playing time to out of favour Dani Ceballos.

BILBAO, SPAIN - DECEMBER 02: (L-R) Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid CF, Daniel Carvajal of Real Madrid CF, Luka Modric of Real Madrid CF and Raphael Varane of Real Madrid CF looks on during the La Liga match between Athletic Club and Real Madrid at Estadio de San Mames on December 2, 2017 in Bilbao, Spain. (Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images)

SUSPENSIONS GALORE FOR SEVILLA VISIT

The late dismissal of skipper Sergio Ramos for a pair of dubious yellow cards was not the only bad news for Zidane on the disciplinary front, with Dani Carvajal and Casemiro also picking up their fifth yellow cards of the season to earn suspensions for next weekend’s home meeting with Sevilla.

Ramos, of course, will also miss that game, which is threatening to become a real banana skin for Zidane’s men. Sevilla have hit form in recent weeks, winning their last three games, and if they can – as expected – clinch progression to the knockout stage in the Champions League in midweek, they will be heading to the Bernabeu with confidence sky-high.

Zidane will have to spend the week working out how to reshape his back four, with the most likely scenario seeing Nacho at right-back and youngster Jesus Vallejo in the middle. But it would be the first time that quartet has ever played together, and Achraf Hakimi provides another option on the right, allowing Nacho to step into the middle alongside Raphael Varane. Whatever decision he comes to, it’s a headache Zidane could do without.

BILBAO, SPAIN - DECEMBER 02: Sergio Ramos of Real Madrid CF looks on during the La Liga match between Athletic Club and Real Madrid at Estadio de San Mames on December 2, 2017 in Bilbao, Spain. (Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images)

A familiar sight: Ramos received his marching orders.

ATHLETIC IN FALSE POSITION

One of the surprises of the La Liga campaign so far has been the struggles of Athletic Bilbao, who have finished 4th, 7th, 5th and 7th in the last four seasons but entered this weekend’s meeting with Madrid well down in 16th place, having only won three league games so far.

On the evidence they presented in San Mames on Saturday night, however, the storied Basque club won’t be down there for much longer. They fully deserved their point against the reigning champions, and could even have taken all three if battle-hardened front duo Aritz Aduriz and Raul Garcia had made the most of their chances.

Athletic’s current position is also skewed by the fact they were handed a particularly tough start by La Liga’s fixture computer, and they have already played against all the top six. With some more winnable contests coming up, they could well climb into the top half of the table before the winter break.

BILBAO, SPAIN - DECEMBER 02: Isco Alarcon of Real Madrid CF (C) being followed by Mikel Rico of Athletic Club (L) and Mikel San Jose of Athletic Club (R) during the La Liga match between Athletic Club and Real Madrid at Estadio de San Mames on December 2, 2017 in Bilbao, Spain. (Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images)

Bilbao are expected to climb up the table.

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Anthony Martial needed kick in the backside but maturing Man United forward and Jose Mourinho deserve credit

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Anthony Martial’s game-winning goal against Tottenham displays that he’s responding well to the pressure after a disappointing second season at Manchester United and he’s showing great commitment to the club.

You need more than one decisive goal in a big game, but it is definitely a big boost for him, because as a player you want to contribute and as a striker the best way to contribute is to score.

He’s also responded well to Romelu Lukaku’s header, that takes some understanding and belief that your partner is going to win the ball.

It was the right moment for him to score but it’s everything that he’s done since the beginning of pre-season that is counting now.

The impact he had during the Tottenham game is due to work behind the scenes.

Martial wheels away after netting late winner against Spurs

Martial wheels away after netting late winner against Spurs

Martial is still learning, he’s still young, just one year older than Marcus Rashford, but as soon as he’s come on the field this season or started games he’s had an impact from assists or scoring goals.

So he’s progressing and that’s credit to him and the staff to guiding him towards these positive performances.

I’m sure there was interest from other clubs during the summer due to his diminished game time last season but he’s answered with a straightforward statement: “I’m staying, I’m going to prove I’m worth the money invested and I’m worth being a striker for United.”

Credit must also go to Jose Mourinho for bringing out the best in him. Young talented players are being praised by their parents, entourage, agents, press, big fees early on, big contracts, and sometimes they need a kick in the a*** to realise they are not the done deal yet – and that was the case with Anthony.

He’s not the finished article at the top level, playing for United and the French national team requires more concentration, determination, involvement in the work.

That was the message when there was public criticism from Mourinho and it looks like it’s paying off because Anthony is a better player than he was last season.

You could feel last year was difficult for him – body language, frustration, everything that he was doing wasn’t going his way. But I thought this changed when I saw what he said when his future at United was being questioned by the media.

Saying something is one thing but putting the action in behind is even more important.

He did this during pre-season because that is when I was with the team, watching training and games also. You could see that he was determined to show his critics who was right and start fresh again.

Overall the Spurs match was a good result for United. It’s not always pretty football but its getting the results which is what the club wants and the fans want.

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Mikael Silvestre column: Victor Lindelof and Dejan Lovren embarrassing defensive mistakes a case of mind over matter

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I went back and watched Victor Lindelof and Dejan Lovren’s mistakes, looked at the explanations and I think they’re a result of the same thing.

In Lindelof’s case, he was involved in the first Huddersfield goal. It wasn’t his fault as such but he’s in the mix as Tom Ince has turned him right, left and right again. He’s almost clueless as to what’s going on before Aaron Mooy scores the rebound.

Five minutes later he’s misjudging a long clearance by the goalkeeper and Laurent Depoitre scored again for Huddersfield.

Never mind him missing the header, it was a bad decision in the first place because even if he manages to direct the ball to David De Gea, it’s dangerous for the goalkeeper; the right decision was to clear the ball.

It’s psychological, as a defender you’re still thinking about your involvement in the first goal, ‘How could I have coped better?’ Lindelof didn’t live the moment, he was in the past and that’s why he didn’t make the right decision in the build-up to Depoitre’s goal.

For Lovren, it’s similar. On the first Tottenham goal, he’s tried to play Harry Kane offside but, as a left-sided centre-back, was wrong-sighted and couldn’t look along the line to check where his team-mates were. He had no clue what was happening behind him, wasn’t even looking, just assuming the guys would be with him in line and Kane ran free to score. The only defenders in that situation who could try and play offside were Joel Matip and right-back Joe Gomez.

Just like Lindelof that was early in the game and eight minutes later he’s thinking about what happened and how could he have stopped it.

Huddersfield Town's Belgian striker Laurent Depoitre (L) turns to celebrate after scoring their second goal during the English Premier League football match between Huddersfield Town and Manchester United at the John Smith's stadium in Huddersfield, northern England on October 21, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Lindsey PARNABY / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or 'live' services. Online in-match use limited to 75 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications. / (Photo credit should read LINDSEY PARNABY/AFP/Getty Images)

Lindelof was at fault for Huddersfield’s second.

Hugo Lloris’ throw caught him by surprise as he wasn’t concentrating, was dwelling on his mistake and made another one for Tottenham to score again.

It has happened to me, maybe not two consecutive mistakes, like Lovren, but sometimes when I was beaten in a challenge, I would think about and then maybe later I wasn’t ready for a similar situation.

I became conscious of that when I was at Manchester United around 2005 so started working with a mental coach.

In too many games, at the beginning of the first half I was like a tractor, it took me time to get into the game, my concentration at the game wasn’t full on.

So I started thinking about how I could improve. I hired someone and we worked together for two years and after that I was there, every moment. I would stay in the game.

Some players don’t like to work with mental coaches but it helped me be more consistent.

The overall message was: “live the moment”, you have to move on – mistakes, celebrations, everything. Only think about three things: the ball, the opponent and your team-mates.

Jurgen Klopp’s decision to substitute Lovren after 31 minutes should help him and he’s an experienced guy, he knows what is required. But it also depends on how Klopp handles it behind closed doors. The one-on-one chat he has with Lovren will be important. But it’s down to the player to take responsibility.

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 22: Dejan Lovren of Liverpool and Harry Kane of Tottenham Hotspur battle for possession during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool at Wembley Stadium on October 22, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Lovren was given the runaround by Kane.

We played West Ham in November, 2005 soon after when George Best passed away. I got substituted after 37 minutes, not because I was directly involved in conceding a goal, but Sir Alex Ferguson felt I wasn’t in the game. Which was true. I had too much energy, I was pressing everywhere and got dragged into the emotion of the occasion. After 37 minutes, I look at the board and I’m like, “what the hell?” You feel ashamed, you feel angry but there is only one reaction – you work harder.

Lindelof will get a second chance because of the amount of games Manchester United have this year. But fans need to be patient.

When I watch him play, I feel Victor needs to work on his aggression. This isn’t Portugal anymore where he can relax in some games.

He needs to be more proactive on the field and grab the opportunity with two hands.

The club have invested a lot in him and he needs to look forward, realise he’s in a really good position to establish himself at United.

The competition between Eric Bailly, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Lindelof is also a good one. Jose Mourinho has so many options and it should help keep Lindelof focused.

MONTELLA IN THE MIRE

Vincenzo Montella’s AC Milan are struggling in Serie A and the coach is under a lot of pressure but in his case, the football aspect is secondary.

How much longer he gets in the job really depends on the financial risk the owners have placed on not making the Champions League

If reaching the top four is an absolute must, then they may have no choice but to sack him, but if it’s not necessary then they will give him more time, which they should.

There were so many transfers into the club over the summer – too many, in my opinion – and they have essentially started from zero.

As a new player into a club, you have to adapt to the coach, the city, the language, the history. And then on the field, you have to build relationships with your team-mates.

You won’t know what sort of players they are; their strengths, weaknesses, their tendencies in certain situations. It’s going to take time. Even with a full pre-season.

This is the scenario with just one new player, now times that by seven or eight for Milan.

And then when the results aren’t happening, doubt starts to creep into everybody’s mind, and that makes Montella’s job even harder.

He needs more time. Patience is important… if Milan can afford it.

MILAN, ITALY - OCTOBER 22: AC Milan coach Vincenzo Montella watches the action during the Serie A match between AC Milan and Genoa CFC at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on October 22, 2017 in Milan, Italy. (Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images)

Under pressure: Vincenzo Montella.

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