Rodrygo scores twice in Vinícius' absence as Spanish leader Real Madrid beats Athletic 2-0

The Brazil forward had scored for Brazil in a friendly against Spain at the Bernabeu last week, but he hadn't found the net for Madrid in seven consecutive games

April 01, 2024 09:42 pm | Updated 09:42 pm IST - Madrid

Real Madrid’s Rodrygo celebrates after scoring his side’s second goal during a Spanish La Liga soccer match between Real Madrid and Athletic Bilbao at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, Spain, Sunday, March 31, 2024.

Real Madrid’s Rodrygo celebrates after scoring his side’s second goal during a Spanish La Liga soccer match between Real Madrid and Athletic Bilbao at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, Spain, Sunday, March 31, 2024. | Photo Credit: AP

Rodrygo thrived in the absence of Vinícius Júnior as Real Madrid beat Athletic Bilbao 2-0 to keep an eight-point lead over Barcelona in the Spanish league.

Rodrygo scored both goals and Madrid maintained its comfortable lead at the top after Barcelona had won 1-0 at Las Palmas on Saturday.

Vinícius didn't play because of a suspension over yellow cards, but Jude Bellingham was back in the squad after missing two straight league games because of a red-card suspension. The influential England international set up Rodrygo's second goal in Madrid's third straight league win.

Rodrygo's opener came with a beautiful shot into the top corner from just outside the area eight minutes into the match at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.

The Brazil forward had scored for Brazil in a friendly against Spain at the Bernabeu last week, but he hadn't found the net for Madrid in seven consecutive games.

“He played very well, made the difference with some high-quality plays,” Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said about Rodrygo.

The Brazilian said after the match he is not feeling threatened by the possible arrival of Kylian Mbappé.

“I think he is close (to being signed), from what everybody has been saying,” Rodrygo said. “I'm just focused on finishing the season well. It would be a nice problem for the coach to have next season. I'm not worried.”

Fourth-place Athletic arrived with its focus on next weekend's Copa del Rey final against Mallorca. The Basque Country club will try to win the cup for the first time in four decades. Defender Yeray Álvarez left Sunday's game with an apparent muscle injury in the 25th and could be doubtful for the final in Seville.

Athletic, which had won two in a row in the league, will drop to fifth place if Atletico Madrid wins at midtable Villarreal on Monday.

Also back in Madrid's squad was central defender Éder Militão, who had been out for eight months because of a knee injury. He came off the bench in stoppage time to loud cheers from the Bernabeu crowd.

Brahim Díaz, who was in for Vinícius, nearly added to Madrid's lead in the 49th with a shot that hit the post.

Tuesday's “One Skin” friendly between Brazil and Spain at the Bernabeu, which ended 3-3, was set up after Vinícius was targeted by racial insults in a league match nearly a year ago.

Sunday's league games came a day after the match between Getafe and Sevilla was marred by more racist insults against Sevilla player Marcos Acuña and Sevilla coach Quique Sánchez Flores.

Madrid wore its purple fourth uniform instead of its traditional white jersey.

STUANI LEADS GIRONA

Cristhian Stuani scored in stoppage time as Girona beat Real Betis 3-2 to move closer to securing a top-four finish.

The home win strengthened Girona's hold on third place. It's nine points ahead of fourth-place Athletic and 10 points in front of fifth-place Atletico Madrid, the first team outside the Champions League qualification places.

Girona visits Atletico next weekend in a key matchup with eight rounds remaining.

The Catalan club, which is part of the Abu Dhabi-backed City Football Group, is trying to make it to the Champions League for the first time.

Girona twice relinquished leads against seventh-place Betis, but earned the victory thanks to Stuani's goal from inside the area two minutes into second-half stoppage time in pouring rain at Montilivi Stadium.

Artem Dovbyk scored the other two goals for the hosts, while Willian José got on the board twice for Betis, which saw its losing streak reach four straight league matches. Manuel Pellegrini's team has one win in its last eight games in all competitions.

RELEGATION FIGHT

Celta Vigo and Rayo Vallecano drew 0-0 in Vigo in a match between relegation-threatened clubs.

The result left Celta in 17th place, immediately behind Rayo.

Celta sits three points clear of the relegation zone, while Rayo is five points from danger. Rayo has one win in 12 matches.

Celta complained about two calls that went against the team — the first on a goal called off because of a foul, and then for a possible penalty kick late in the game.

SOCIEDAD WINS AGAIN

Sixth-place Real Sociedad picked up its third straight victory by winning 1-0 at 13th-place Alaves.

Jon Pacheco scored the winner with a diving header in the 59th.

Alaves has one win in its last eight league matches.

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