Real Madrid heaped further misery on an out of sorts Athletic side as they put five past the Basque side to leapfrog rivals Atletico and enter the top four.
Gareth Bale ran the show, but Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo popped up with the goals, with the latter scoring yet another La Liga hat-trick to take his tally for the season to 17.
The fact that Athletic kicked off against Real Madrid in the relegation zone best illustrated their recent plight. They were without a win in six after a mid-week loss to Bate Borisov and were forced to make do without top marksman Artiz Aduriz.
And their luck didn’t look like turning anytime soon, as they were powerless to prevent the rampant Ronaldo bagging his 12th in just seven matches.
The Portuguese rose highest at the far post to latch onto Gareth Bale’s cross and head past Iraizoz to put Real Madrid into a second-minute lead.
He forced a great save from the Bilbao stopper minutes later, as a few step-overs bought him space to fire a low shot which required Iraizoz to drop low and save the effort.
Bale’s powers of creativity were firmly on show, and the Welshman seemingly put the ball on a platter for Benzema as he fired the ball across goal, but the striker was unable to get a decisive touch.
Muniain and Susaeta forced saves from Casillas, with the former’s volley forcing a decent stop from the veteran stopper.
Madrid were certainly the better of the two sides - with Bale in particular running the show - but failed to adequately test Iraizoz with their finishing, particularly from set-pieces.
But Madrid managed to find an important second goal on the stroke of half-time through Benzema, who wriggled away from the attentions of Balenziaga and headed home.
BBC were in full force in the second half, and the Bale-Ronaldo combination struck again for Real’s third. Benzema played a well-weighted pass into the path of Bale, who showed the Bilbao defence a clean set of heels and squared the ball to Ronaldo for an easy tap-in.
Bale almost had one of his own, as passes from Benzema and James Rodriguez put the ball into the path of the 25-year-old, who curled the ball just wide. He was gifted another chance five minutes later, but his effort was straight down the throat of Iraizoz.
Bilbao were as good done as far as the match was concerned, but Ibai Gomez was still able to work an effort on goal, as he found space on the far post for a header which was well stopped by Casillas.
Bale appeared to have finally bagged the goal his play had deserved as he seemingly scored in a manner not to dissimilar to the early goal he set up for Ronaldo, but it was ruled out for offside.
However, with the free-flowing attacking football Real were exhibiting, it wasn’t going to be too long before they bagged a fourth, and it came from the boot of Benzema who scored his second of the night.
Luka Modric’s defence-splitting pass picked out Ronaldo, who was ahead of the backline and one-on-one with the Athletic keeper. And though he was afforded the chance to score his hat-trick, he unselfishly squared the ball to the Frenchman who finished with aplomb.
Despite Ronaldo’s unselfishness, he was clearly desperate for a third and would’ve found it, had it not been for a brilliant reaction save from Iraizoz to deny him. The keeper also stopped a decent effort from Bale minutes later and a trademark Ronaldo free-kick. The 33-year-old keeper can be somewhat proud of his performance.
But try as he might, he was powerless to stop the star man grabbing yet another La Liga hat-trick. There was an element of fortune about the goal, with Pepe’s aimless ball back into the box bouncing off his hip and into the goal - but it doesn’t change the figures. 17 goals in all competitions; 11 goals in four league games; three hat-tricks in four matches; the mind boggles.
Athletic Bilbao: Iraizoz; De Marcos, Gurpegui, Laporte, Balenziaga; Iturraspe, Rico, Benat; Muniain, Guillermo, Susaeta.
Real Madrid: Casillas; Carvajal, Pepe, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo; Kroos, Modric, James; Bale, Ronaldo, Benzema
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