Rodrygo powers Madrid past Athletic to maintain Liga lead

Rodrygo fired La Liga leaders Real Madrid to a 2-0 win over Athletic Bilbao with a superb brace on Sunday to restore their eight-point advantage on Barcelona. Source:

After the second-place champions beat Las Palmas on Saturday to put pressure on Carlo Ancelotti’s side, Los Blancos responded with a solid showing at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Without suspended Brazil forward Vinicius Junior, his compatriot Rodrygo made the difference with two superb strikes against an Athletic with one eye on next weekend’s Copa del Rey final.

Ernesto Valverde rested goalkeeper Unai Simon and defender Dani Vivian, along with Nico Williams, who had a minor muscular issue.

Defeat leaves fifth place Atletico Madrid able to rise above Athletic in fourth on Monday when they visit Villarreal.

Madrid, whose next match is Manchester City’s visit on April 9 in the Champions League quarter-finals, enjoyed a comfortable night.

Ancelotti was able to give defender Eder Militao a few minutes off the bench after a long-term knee injury he sustained in August against Athletic on the opening day of the season.

“It was a very special day, to score with this shirt on is always important and a delight for me,” match-winner Rodrygo told Real Madrid TV.

“I am very happy with the win and our performance.”

Rodrygo broke the deadlock after just seven minutes with a strike from just outside the area.

After receiving a crossfield pass from Brahim Diaz, the forward drove towards the box and arced a shot beyond the reach of Julen Agirrezabala.

Athletic defender Yeray Alvarez limped off injured, with Valverde bringing on regular starter Vivian in his stead.

Agirrezabala saved from Toni Kroos and Fede Valverde before Aurelien Tchouameni headed a good chance just wide before the break.

Without Spain winger Nico Williams, Athletic looked short of ideas in the final third and they failed to create much in either half.

‘Joy and happiness’ 

Diaz crashed a shot against the post as Madrid sought a second goal to kill the game, but they needed goalkeeper Andriy Lunin to stay sharp to deny Inaki Williams at the near post with a volley from a corner.

Rodrygo netted his and Madrid’s second after 73 minutes at the end of a slick move, ghosting inside Vivian and finishing at the near post.

Antonio Rudiger thwarted Iker Muniain with a fine piece of last-ditch defending to ensure there could be no Athletic comeback.

La Liga’s joint top scorer Jude Bellingham, making his return after a two-match suspension for dissent, had a quiet night — quite literally at one point.

In complaint about a foul not called in his favour late on he acted out zipping his mouth shut, a reference to his recent punishment.

Militao’s appearance in the final stages marked the end of a good night’s work for Madrid.

“I feel a lot of joy and happiness, hearing the fans when I went out to warm up is a joy that I can’t describe,” Militao told Real Madrid TV.

“(I’ve thought about my return) many times, these have been difficult days — but now to enjoy the good moment.”

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