Trouble-torn Real Madrid
slumped to their second defeat in three Primera Liga games when they
lost 2-1 to a classy Athletic Bilbao side on Saturday.
Athletic, without a win in their previous four matches, dominated at a
packed San Mames, out-playing their bemused opponents who again
struggled to find any fluency.
Goals from centre-forward Ismael Urzaiz and midfielder Santi Ezquerro
gave the Basques a deserved 2-0 lead at halftime and although Raul
pulled one back for Real soon after the break, the visitors never really
threatened to stage a comeback.
Deportivo Coruna went some way to erasing the memory of their 5-1
thrashing by champions Valencia on Wednesday when they came from a goal
down to earn a 1-1 home draw with Real Betis in Saturday's late match.
Earlier, Atletico Madrid bounced back from a midweek defeat at Levante
to claim a 1-0 home win over Villarreal thanks to a bullet header from
striker Salva Ballesta.
Atletico joined Valencia and Barcelona on 10 points at the top of the
standings. Real are a point behind.
Valencia and Barcelona will have a chance to open up a gap when they
play Racing Santander and Real Mallorca on Sunday.
Athletic made a whirlwind start in front of their home crowd,
mesmerising an out-of-sorts Real with their slick passing in midfield
and pacy attacks on the wings.
The Basque side issued an early warning when keeper Iker Casillas made a
brave save to stop Urzaiz converting a fine cross from youngster Andoni
Iraola, who had skipped past Raul Bravo on the right.
Bravo was in the side after new coach Mariano Garcia Remon decided to
rest first choice left back Roberto Carlos, but his gamble failed as the
Spaniard proved incapable of coping with the inspired Athletic forwards.
EXPOSED IN DEFENCE Five minutes later Real fell a goal behind after they
were again exposed in defence.
Defender Asier del Horno swung in a cross from the left and Urzaiz made
the most of more slack marking from Bravo to drift towards the far post
where he controlled the ball with his right foot and cracked it home
with his left.
Without the injured Zinedine Zidane, Real looked rudderless in midfield
as David Beckham and Albert Celades struggled to stem their opponents'
attacks and to supply their own strikers.
In desperation, Ronaldo and Luis Figo resorted to long-range shots which
failed to trouble keeper Daniel Aranzubia. It came as no surprise then
when Athletic extended their lead on the stroke of halftime, Del Horno
producing another great cross and Ezquerro getting in front of Bravo to
head past Casillas.
Real were thrown a lifeline at the start of the second half when Raul
scored his first league goal since notching a double in a 4-2 defeat at
the same ground six months ago, curling the ball in after a neat
backheeled pass from Guti.
Garcia Remon replaced Beckham and Bravo with Roberto Carlos and Fernando
Morientes on the hour, but his changes produced little improvement and
it was Athletic who continued to dominate and had little difficulty
securing their first win of the season.