Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, Madrid
Saturday, November 17, 21:00 GMT
After an interesting week of international matches, Real Madrid continue their pursuit of Barcelona by welcoming Athletic Bilbao to the Santiago Bernabeu. After the ridiculous but thrilling encounter against Levante, which Real Madrid won thanks to Alvaro Morata, another tough opposition await Los Blancos.
While Real Madrid have their own set of injury problems to deal with, Athletic Bilbao’s problems are much deeper. They endured a horrific start to the campaign by letting in five goals against Betis and four against Atletico. They have looked rusty and uninspired.
But their last two victories against Granada and Sevilla will have given them a lot of confidence. Currently Athletic stand 12 in the table and have quite some way to go before making themselves worthy of a European spot. It is also hard to imagine that a team which dominated the Europa League last year is on the brink of elimination this year after the loss to Lyon at home. The problems just won’t disappear for Marcelo Bielsa.
Team News and Tactical Brief
Jose Mourinho will be mighty pleased with the international friendly fixtures and the timing of it considering that his best players such as Ronaldo and Ozil got enough time to recover before the clash with the Basque outfit. Also the news of Khedira and Benzema training with the first team would have been pleasing to the coach and the fans.
José Mourinho’s worries in defense are finally resolved. Fábio Coentrão and Alvaro Arbeloa are back to full fitness while Pepe and Ramos will continue playing as centre backs. Iker Casillas will start in goal.
Xabi Alonso will finally look to start with Khedira in the centre of midfield. Even though Mourinho has got options like Essien and Modric, Khedira has always looked the best one beside the Spanish internatonal.
Ronaldo may have played with only an eye against Levante but going by reports from training, the Portuguese super star is all set to resume his goal scoring duties. Angel Di Maria is clearly not having the best of his times but his pace and trickery will always come handy against a tough opposition like Bilbao. Ozil will be the primary play maker.
While Benzema has recovered from an injury, Jose Callejon may still play as the striker for this game. The Cantera graduate has been impressive in the last couple of games with his fantastic movement and work ethic. He has displayed great form and it will be difficult for the coach to drop him. Expect Callejon to start the game upfront and later Benzema to replace him.
Bilbao are a team who like to press and play a high line of defense with rapid transitions in attack. Real Madrid will have to rely on Alonso’s expertise to spread the play and on the pace of their offense to leave the opposition defense reeling. Undoubtedly, it promises to be an entertaining game.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1): Casillas; Arbeloa, Ramos, Pepe, Coentrao; Khedira, Alonso; Di Maria, Özil, Ronaldo; Callejon
Marcelo Bielsa has two of his major players sidelined because of suspensions for this big clash. Ander Herrera and Oscar de Marcos are two players who have been an integral part of this team’s renaissance last year. Without them, and after the sale of Javi Martinez to Bayern Munich, the onus will be on Iker Muniain to step up a notch and trouble the famed Madrid defense.
Muniain will be ably assisted by Susaeta and Aduriz at the front. While Bielsa can also play a 4-2-3-1, the absence of two of his major players may make him go for a 4-3-3 with three players guarding the centre of midfield and running the game. Gurpegui, Gomez and Iturraspe may be given the opportunity to try and prevent Alonso and Ozil from making their plays.
While Athletic Bilbao’s defense has been in absolute shambles this season, the names of Iraola and Amorebieta and San Jose make up for their defensive lapses with impressive ball playing abilities. They will try to up the tempo of the game, a thing which Bielsa advocates, and try to be as vertical as possible. Expect Munian and Susaeta to give problems to Coentrao and Arbeloa.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-3-3): Iraizoz; Iraola, San Jose, Amorebieta, Aurtenetxe; Gurpegui, Gomez, Iturraspe; Susaeta, Aduriz, Muniain
Player To Watch Out For
Karim Benzema (Real Madrid)
The Real Madrid star has been out with an injury but will make his comeback against Athletic Bilbao. He has not been in the best of forms this season and has seen his starting position usurped by Gonzalo Higuain. With Higuain out with an injury too, Benzema will be looking to impress his boss with the expectation of cementing his place in the upcoming Champions League clash against Manchester City, which can effectively make or break their campaign.
Iker Muniain (Athletic Bilbao)
While he still a young boy, it is no secret that he is a very special boy. On his day, he can run rampant with his impressive dribbling and awesome ball control. Marcelo Bielsa will be trusting his best player on the pitch to come up with something close to his best.
Real Madrid 2- 1 Athletic Bilbao
WIth two eccentric coaches with fixed philosophies, this game promises to be an extravagant affair. If Athletic Bilbao can get their act together, Real Madrid will find it very difficult to shake them off. But, with the home advantage, expect Real Madrid to come through unscathed.