Real Madrid secured their first La Liga win since 30 December by beating Athletic Club 2-0 at San Mames, ensuring Barcelona’s lead at the top of the table remains just three points.
The Catalans had put pressure on their Madrid rivals earlier on Sunday evening by landing a narrow win against Getafe to at least temporarily open up a six-point gap.
But Real responded in kind on their travels to the Basque region of Spain.
Carlo Ancelotti’s side were beaten by Villarreal in their last La Liga fixture way back on 7 December and have been exclusively in Supercopa de Espana and Cope del Rey action since then.
Having seen off Villarreal in the Copa in midweek to right the wrongs of their league defeat, Real came into this game in Bilbao needing to win.
Big chances were relatively few and far between and it was actually Athletic who tried their luck more freely. That being said, all but three of their 18 efforts were off target and didn’t bother Thibaut Courtois. Real themselves only had four shots on target but were much more clinical.
Los Blancos took the lead midway through the first half when Karim Benzema scored a stunning left-footed volley on the swivel. Marco Asensio gets credited for the assist, but it wasn’t a particularly great header down and it was definitely all Benzema’s work.
Both sides had been feeling each other out, trading half chances before that. But the goal did seem to lift Real and Athletic backed down, nor could they particularly rouse themselves at the start of the second and Nacho should have doubled the lead at the hour with two chances one after the other.
Athletic started to pull themselves together a little more as the half continued, yet it was Real who were still closest to scoring next. This time, Asensio was guilty of missing the target from a good position when all he had to do was slot it past Unai Simon.
Nico Williams went on to squander a chance at the far post, while Athletic did later have the ball in the net from Inaki Williams, only to be ruled out by an offside flag. The hosts were then pushing hard for an equaliser, rediscovering their earlier energy, but the hammer blow from Real came courtesy of substitute Toni Kroos in the final moment when he converted a low shot from 20 yards.
GK: Simon (5); RB: De Marcos (6), CB: Vivian (6), CB: Paredes (6), LB: Berchiche (7); CM: Zarraga (7), CM: Vesga (6); RM: N. Williams (6), AM: Sancet (6), LM: Berengeur (6); ST: I. Williams (6)
Guruzeta (6), Herrera (6), Muniain (6), Lekue (6), Garcia (N/A)
GK: Courtois (8); RB: Nacho (7), CB: Militao (7), CB: Rudiger (7), LB: Mendy (7); CM: Valverde (7), CM: Camavinga (7), CM: Ceballos (6); RW: Asensio (7), ST: Benzema (8), LW: Vinicius Jr (7)
Modrid (5), Rodrygo (7), Kroos (7)