Karim Benzema’s prolific start to the season continued with another two goals as Real Madrid defeated Athletic Bilbao 2-1 in La Liga on Wednesday.
The Frenchman took full advantage of Mikel San Jose’s horrible backpass early on, before sealing Los Blancos’ first win at the new San Mames with a tap-in after the break.
Mateo Kovacic debuted for Madrid in his favoured role behind the striker, in this case Benzema, with Isco moving to the right wing in order to accommodate the new boy and Lucas Vazquez being demoted to the substitutes’ bench.
Athletic, on the other hand, suffered for their excessive rotation against Villarreal on Sunday, crashing to a 3-1 defeat at El Madrigal, and consequently recalled the likes of Markel Susaeta, Raul Garcia and top goalscorer Aritz Aduriz.
An action-packed first half in the Basque Country resulted in chances galore for both teams, although Madrid had the better of them.
Benzema was intially denied by a series of blocks, while he came a whisker away from burying Marcelo’s low cross into the box, but he eventually came up trumps thanks to San Jose’s misjudgement, meaning he has now scored in every one of his appearances this season.
Cristiano Ronaldo, in search of his record-equalling 323rd goal, was also denied by an Athletic shirt as he looked to fire Madrid ahead from a close-range volley, before he blazed over a decent shooting position, much to his visible frustration.
Kovacic seemed to thrive in the No 10 position as he was fulcrum of many Blancos attacks before the interval, although he ought to have done far better with his shot in the box as he only found Gorka Iraizoz, despite being unmarked.
That wasn’t to say Los Leones didn’t pose a threat of their own, Aduriz testing Keylor Navas with two headers from a matter of yards out, only for the goalkeeper to emerge victorious in both duels.
The restart took a while to hot up, but Athletic were to be rewarded for their patience as Sabin Merino, last season’s ‘B’ top scorer, who sent a textbook diving header past the seemingly-inpenetrable Navas.
However, their equaliser was short-lived, Isco – who had been quietly growing in prominence – picking out Benzema for his second of the evening with a cross, which could have been mistaken for a silver platter in front of Iraizoz’s goal.
Madrid proceeded to showcase some lovely pass-and-move football, having completed over 200 passes more than Athletic, but the same couldn’t be said for Ronaldo's finishing as he dragged a late attempt wide of the far post.
Nonetheless, Los Leones conjured up the game’s final moment of drama, when Garcia’s looping header forced Navas into a fingertip save over his own bar.
Athletic Bilbao 1-2 Real Madrid
Sabin 67 (AB) Benzema 19, 70 (RM)
Athletic Bilbao: Iraizoz; De Marcos, Etxeita, Laporte, Balenziaga; San Jose (Rico 72), Benat (Sola 85); Susaeta (Ibai 78), Garcia, Sabin; Aduriz
Real Madrid: Navas; Carvajal, Varane, Pepe, Marcelo; Kroos, Modric; Isco (Jese 72), Kovacic (Vazquez 89), Ronaldo; Benzema (Casemiro 80)
Referee: Mateu Lahoz