Madrid are used to overcoming their, by now customary, weekly incidents off the pitch with professional displays on it. Last Sunday they overcame the storm in Valencia with a brute display, and tonight they handed out a thrashing to a mouldy Athletic team. Madrid are up for this. They are still the league champions, and although Barcelona are far ahead, they are determined to keep going. And it is working for them. A discreet chase, discreet that is until the first slip from Barcelona unleashes hell. That is the Madrid dream. Their victory over Athletic, with a five star Benzema and Modric and Xabi in control (this was maybe the most convincing display from the Croat since he arrived in Madrid) and an imperial Ramos, was extremely easy.
It is clear that Athletic, a ghost of a team, left their soul in Bucharest. In the two finals in May the muses, their form and their players abandoned them. And their plan. Javi Martínez was lost to Munich, Llorente is hardly used. There is no one to bring back a committed Athletic who have done little in the two biggest stadiums recently anyway. They have lost on their last 16 visits to the Camp Nou and the Bernabeu (eight and eight respectively). Madrid didn't even need to smell blood. It was coming. They went after the diminished lions, who, at the first puff, an own goal from Aurtenetxe after a long ball from Modric and control from Benzema, collapsed pathetically. Athletic are not ready for this kind of challenge.
After half an hour the fight was over. Ramos, lethal from dead balls, made it 2-0 with his head, after the refined Özil had sent over an impeccable ball with his left leg. Benzema made it three with a manoeuvre worthy of a great striker. A half turn, somewhere between five a side football and a bullfighter, followed by a powerful shot. A work of genius. Athletic weren't there, and this wasn't a game. It's incomprehensible how Bielsa's plan has evaporated, especially considering how it was one of the most celebrated things to come out of this league in a long while. Right now Athletic don't believe in anything. Their faith is destroyed. Watching it one can only feel pity. It seems incurable. Ibai, before the break, airbrushed the situation somewhat. But it was hard to think that making it 3-1 would have any real impact on the outcome.
The thrashing might have been somewhat reduced had the referee Teixeira Vitienes seen Coentrao's hand ball in the box right at the start of the second half. A minute late Özil made it all hypothetical with a fourth after an unselfish, sublime, assist from Benzema. The Frenchman, playing his second game on the trot, was up for it. Khedira got the fifth, to add a shine to his reappearance. And when Benzema was replaced he went off to a standing ovation. Morata came on, with his name being sung around the Bernabéu, and nearly scored. To slice up Athletic, Real Madrid, like this match report, didn't even need to turn to Cristiano...