Week 12, Liga BBVA, Spain
Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid, Spain
November 21st, 2010, 02:30 AM, IST
After a short International break, the whole of Europe shifts focus towards club football and it’s no different in Spain as Real Madrid host their old enemies Athletic Bilbao at the Santiago Bernabeu. Real Madrid lie top of table in La Liga and this is the start of a string of crucial fixtures for the Capital Giants. Next week is the famous El Clasico, so Los Blancos will be looking to enter that important fixture as leaders. But, the Basque men won’t be pushovers, as they look to restore a season that is going a little out of way.
Sporting Scare Survived
Last weekend, all the attention was drawn to the spat between Manuel Preciado and Jose Mourinho after the former called the latter “a villain” and the game was not an easy one for Real Madrid as Preciado’s men put in a brave and passionate performance. Only Gonzalo Higuain’s late 81st minute winner ensured that the Galacticos survived a potential banana skin and remained leaders in the league.
This week, they face Los Lenoes in what should be a very tasty affair at the Bernabeu. Bilbao and Madrid are known to be traditional rivals and it goes way back to the early 1900s. Real Madrid is clearly the stronger side on paper, but when these two teams face each other, it almost always ends in a tight contest with plenty of action and drama. This should be no different.
See-Saw Season So Far
Athletic’s season has been a bit weird thus far. It’s almost exactly been a see-saw ride for Bilbao. One week, they managed to win a game convincingly, and in the next, they succumbed to a debilitating defeat. Their coach Joaquin Caparros is well aware of it and has called to end that run at the Bernabeu. They narrowly edged out Almeria last weekend after a 4-1 thrashing by Villarreal a week before. The Bernabeu won’t be an easy place to play at, and looking at the trend Bilbao have set for themselves so far this season, it looks like a defeat is in place for them this weekend.
However, they will be looking to cause an upset and possibly chance the league table positions. Most of their players would’ve had more rest than their Real Madrid counterparts, who had International duties. Les Leones have a great opportunity to create an early upset and regain their confidence to continue looking for a place in Europe.
Team News and Tactical Brief
Fortunately for Real Madrid, none of their players picked up knocks while playing for their respective countries. This being an important fixture, Mourinho will look to use full force and grab the three points at stake. Casillas will start in goal like always. Ramos, Pepe, Carvalho, and Marcelo will be the men playing in defence covered by Alonso and Khedira in front of them. Di Maria and Ronaldo will provide the width on the flanks, while Ozil will try to feed needle sharp passes from the middle to Higuain, who will play alone up front. Real Madrid has lost a little bit of sharpness in front of goal and they should recover it soon if they want to exact revenge in next weekend’s El Clasico.
Probable Starting XI: Casillas; Ramos-Pepe-Carvalho-Marcelo; Alonso-Khedira; Di Maria-Ozil-Ronaldo; Higuain.
Bilbao too doesn’t have any major concerns and they should be lining up their strongest men in order to try and get a positive result at the Bernabeu. Iraizoz will start in goal protected by the defensive four of Iraola, Dominguez, Amorebieta, and Koikili. With a 4-4-2 formation in use, Caparros will line up Orbaiz, Gurpegi, Gabilondo, and Susaeta as midfielders. Toquero and Llorente will be the front men and will try to hit Real Madrid on the counter attack. Bilbao is a great side when they defend and absorb the pressure, and then hit their opponents on the counter attack. And that is exactly what their coach will be telling them to do on Saturday at the Bernabeu.
Probable Starting XI: Iraizoz; Iraola-Dominguez-Amorbieta-Koikili; Orbaiz-Gurpegi-Gabilondo-Susaeta; Toquero-Llorente.
Real Madrid: W-W-W-D-W
Athletic Bilbao: W-W-L-W-W
1. Real Madrid and Athletic Bilbao along with Barcelona are the only three teams to be never relegated from the Spanish League.
2. While Real Madrid is famous for buying superstar after superstar, Athletic Bilabao is famous for bringing in outstanding Basque talents from their youth setup.
3. Last season, Real Madrid steamrolled past Bilbao in this corresponding fixture beating them 5-1 at the Bernabeu in May.
TheHardTackle’s PLAYER TO WATCH OUT FOR
Xabi Alonso (Real Madrid): Xabi will have his own personal battle on Saturday against his ex-foes. He’ll be the key man for Real Madrid to make the difference. Bilbao will press and cut down the spaces, so it will be up to Alonso to provide solutions for the front four through his exquisite passing. It’s crucial for Madrid that Alonso owns the game tomorrow.
Real Madrid 2-0 Athletic Bilbao
It is vital for Real Madrid to remain leaders in the league before heading to the all important El Clasico. The Leones have their own problems and will be looking to overcome them. But it looks unlikely that they could cause an upset on Saturday. One can expect a professional performance from Real Madrid to clinch the three points and remain top of the league.
TheHardTackle’s BLAST FROM THE PAST