MADRID (AFP, REUTERS) - Sergio Ramos scored his 22nd consecutive penalty on Sunday (July 5), as Real Madrid held on for another 1-0 win over Athletic Bilbao to inch closer to winning La Liga.
The 34-year-old captain's fifth goal in seven games since the restart after the coronavirus stoppage gives Real a seven-point lead over champions Barcelona, who play later on Sunday away at in-form Villarreal.
Anything but a victory for Barca would surely leave them with too much to do with four games remaining, especially as Madrid own the superior head-to-head record.
Ramos had converted a late spot kick against Getafe in Real's last match and the centre-back once again showed nerves of steel by firing into the bottom corner in the 73rd minute.
"I feel most comfortable during moments of the highest tension so I think I'm the ideal person to take on the responsibility at a moment like this," he said.
"The only thing I was thinking about when taking the penalty was how important it was to get the three points."
Athletic's San Mames is one of the toughest away trips in Spain and the Basques have beaten Barcelona twice there this season in the league and Copa del Rey.
Real also faced a gruelling match even without any fans in the stadium, as the Basques continually closed them down and subjected them to their usual aerial bombardment.
Raul Garcia forced Real goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois into a fine early save while Inaki Williams also proved a handful for the visitors.
Zidane's side, meanwhile, missed three good opportunities before the break, with Rodrygo and Karim Benzema missing the target with close-range headers and Dani Carvajal bungling a pass which would have handed Benzema an open goal.
They finally found a way through when Marcelo sprinted into the area and had his foot clipped by the stray boot of Dani Garcia. The referee went across to the pitchside monitor to review the play before pointing to the spot.
Athletic had a late penalty shout when Ramos appeared to tread on Raul Garcia but the incident was not reviewed and Zidane's side clung on for a third consecutive 1-0 win, maintaining their flawless run since the season resumed after the coronavirus stoppage.
"It was very important for us to win this one and we've done just that. This was one of our hardest games left, against a team who we always suffer against," added Ramos.
"You can see how badly we want to win this league title by how we went out to win the game from the start."