Real Madrid recorded their fourth straight win in all competition having notched up an impressive 16 goals over the last four games, conceding none. However, the narrow 1-0 up over the lowly Granada at the Santiago Bernabeu has left many with lingering doubt about the side. We look at three pluses the Los Blancos can take in the Wednesday night’s clash with Athletic Bilbao.
Athletic Bilbao at St. Mames represents the biggest test the Los Blancos have had so far in the season. The game represents a chance for Rafael Benitez and his men to dispel any doubt about their competitiveness this season. A win at the ground which has often proven difficult to conquer for the big-two of Spanish Football will go a long way in dispelling any doubts and will be a statement of intent.
We look at three positives the Spanish giants can draw from their hard-fought win against Granada to take in the Athletic Bilbao trip.
1 – Keylor Navas
It is just 22 days from the day Costa Rican international Keylor Navas was on his way to join Manchester United after a deal to sign David de Gea had been agreed between the two clubs. As fate would have it, it fell through in the most absurd of fashions and Navas remained at the Santiago Bernabeu. Florentino Perez apologized to the player and he has responded in the best way possible. Navas made some fantastic saves since the fateful day, especially last night, to keep five straight clean-sheets for Real Madrid and in the process took over Miguel Angel’s record of four straight clean-sheets at the start of the 75-76 season.
According to reports in Spanish paper Marca, Navas is now just 10 minutes away from beating Iker Casillas’ personal record of going 460 minutes without conceding a goal in 2008-09.
With the goalkeeper in such a form, Real Madrid can go to Bilbao with the attack confident they can rely on their defence and focus on getting the goals.
2 – Squad depth
Although Real Madrid do not have as many unavailable players as their arch-rivals FC Barcelona do, the Los Blancos certainly had their central attacking resources tested with Gareth Bale and James Rodriguez, both out injured. James injury following the international break was enough of a set-back only for the injury to Bale midweek on the Champions League to compound it.
While many thought the talented 22-year old Jese was certain to play the game, Benitez surprised everyone by starting Lucas Vasquez and also giving Denis Cheryshev a chance from the bench as Jese sat the game out. It will be unsurprising if Jese was only being rested and will once again start against Bilbao. Nonetheless, the squad rotation ensured all the players in the attacking position for Real have had a taste of first team football and at the same time, the likes of Jese will be much more energetic for the St. Mames trip.
3 – Raphael Varane
Pepe has been preferred to Varane to start alongside Sergio Ramos under Benitez. However, following a shoulder problem to the Real Madrid captain, Varane was drafted in the XI. The French star was sharp in stopping Granada’s counter attack while Pepe was finding it a bit more difficult to deal with Granada attacker El-Arabi, whose pressing meant Pepe squandered possession in dangerous area.
With Sergio Ramos likely to return to the squad for the Athletic game, Benitez will have a decision to make as to whom he shall chose between the two central defenders that started against Granada. Given Varane’s performance, it is hard to bet the Frenchman will be overlooked for Pepe.