A surprise defeat at mid-table Athletic Bilbao loosened Real Madrid’s grip on the La Liga leadership. They are two points clear at the top with second-placed Barcelona hosting Rayo Vallecano today but the pressure is building on Carlo Ancelotti.
A bullet header from Aritz Aduriz wrapped up the points. He outjumped the defender Pepe to power a cross by Mikel Rico into the top corner after 26 minutes of a frenetic first-half.
Real have taken only one point from their last two games after they drew 1-1 with Villarreal last week.
Gareth came within an ace of becoming Real’s hero of the hour when hit the post with a spectacular effort seven minutes from time, lobbing Athletic goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz from midway inside the Bilbao half.
Real were denied time on the ball by Bilbao, who are on a high after booking a place in the King’s Cup final with victory over Espanyol on Wednesday.
Bilbao were unable to maintain the pressure after the interval and Real began to dominate possession but the visitors struggled to create openings.
Instead Aduriz came within inches of getting a second goal with another header which hit the outside of the post.
Real’s coach Carlo Ancelotti has been coming under increasing criticism for their lull in form since the Christmas break and he was accused this week of being too soft on the players.
“I have felt supported by the club since the first day I arrived,” Ancelotti, who took charge of the club in 2013 having previously led Milan to two Champions League triumphs.
“I have a lot of experience. I have been coaching for many years and with this ‘weak’ arm of mine I have managed to win three Champions Leagues.”
Fans have become used to Real sweeping aside the opposition as they did during their Spanish record 22-match winning streak at the end of 2014.
Last week the Real fans took exception to the substitution of the creative Isco for Asier Illarramendi and there was a chorus of whistles. But Ancelotti said: “I am used to criticism, this was not the first time and it won’t be the last but it won’t change my attitude. I have full confidence in the team and I would make the same substitution again.”
Athletic Bilbao: Iraizoz; De Marcos, Gurpegi, Etxeita, Balenziaga, Rico Merno (Toquero, 90), Etxebarria Urkiaga, Iraola, Muniain (Susaeta, 640, Williams (Fernandez Hierro, 75), Aduriz.
Real Madrid: Casillas, Carvajal, Ppe, Varane, Marcelo, Illarramendi (Jese, 71), Kroos (Borges, 76), Isco, Bale, Benzema, (Hernandez, 80), Ronaldo.
Referee: Alberto Undiano Mallenco
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