Real Madrid 4-2 Athletic Bilbao: Zinedine Zidane's men close gap at top to one point
By Pete Hall
Last Updated: 13/02/16 6:34pm
Real Madrid survived a first-half scare to close the gap at the top of La Liga to just one point after a 4-2 win over Athletic Bilbao at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Cristiano Ronaldo opened the scoring in typically lethal fashion, firing into the top corner, but Raphael Varane's error let in Javier Eraso for an equaliser eight minutes later.
Aritz Aduriz hit the crossbar as Athletic pushed for another but, somewhat against the run of play, James Rodriguez brilliantly rifled a strike into the bottom corner to give Real the lead once more.
Toni Kroos arrived late to score Real's third on the stroke of half-time, but Varane's harsh late red card for two identical bookable offences did take some of the shine off the result.
Ronaldo added a well-taken fourth moments after Real were down to 10 men, and Gorka Elustondo headed a late consolation to complete the scoring.
The result sees Zinedine's Zidane's men move to within one point of Barcelona at the top of the table, having played two games more, while Athletic stay sixth.
Real started the match very much on the front foot and it wasn't long before Ronaldo, who has come under criticism recently for his goalscoring record against sides in the top six, answered his critics in emphatic fashion.
The Portuguese pulled wide, but darted quickly back inside to deceive his marker and fired an unstoppable strike into the top corner.
However, the visitors responded brilliantly, and were level on 11 minutes. Varane looked to have it all under control, but got his pass back all wrong, forcing the onrushing Navas to save to his left, but he could only parry into the path of Eraso, who passed into the empty net.
Veteran Aduriz was causing the Real backline all sorts of problems, and he almost put his side in front, only to see his flicked-effort come back off the crossbar.
That miss was to prove crucial, as James produced a moment of magic to put his side back in front. Ronaldo created the space for the Colombian to cut inside and shoot, and he took full advantage, rifling into the bottom corner.
That seemed to deflate the visitors, and Kroos's third in first-half stoppage time made the points safe. The German midfielder capitalised on more space created by Athletic doubling up on Ronaldo, turned swiftly and fired home.
After the break, the pace of the game slowed somewhat, with Atheltic content to conserve energy.
Ronaldo saw a scuffed effort come out off the foot of the post, but Varane's late red card for what seemed like an innocuous foul reignited the encounter.
Ronaldo netted his second and Real's fourth after being picked out by a pinpoint Lucas Vazquez cross, before Gorka Elustondo guided a Oscar De Marcos cross past Navas to make the scoreline appear more respectable.