Estadio San Mamés, Bilbao
April 14th 2013, 20:00 GMT
Real Madrid have fond memories from the time they last visited Estadio San Mamés. It was here, with a 3-0 victory over Athletic Bilbao, that Real Madrid finally put an end to Barcelona’s domestic supremacy and secured their 32nd La Liga title, having been in the Catalans’ shadow for over three years. The scenario is a little different this time however. Real Madrid have all but surrendered the La Liga crown to Barcelona and consequently winning the La Decima is a bigger priority than ever before. Having seen of Galatasaray in the Quarter Finals and the semi-final clash against Borussia Dortmund looming ever closer on the horizon, the Real Madrid faithful will surely not be as geared up as the last time around. That will be no excuse for complacency though, as finishing second above Atletico Madrid remains a priority.
Just as their opponents on the day, this has been a very different season for the Basque club. Athletic Bilbao achieved great highs last season, wherein they beat Manchester United in the Europa League over two legs among several other eye-catching performances. The current season, however, has been one of inconsistency and at times turmoil. The star performers from last season, notably Llorente and Iker Muniain have been in and out of form while the former is also bound for Juventus in summer. Marcelo Biesla has stated several times that the season remains a mystery to him, as it does to many others too.
Team Line-up and Tactics
Marcelo Biesla has had to face several problems this season, right from the beginning, and that trend will continue as the Argentine will have to make some tough choices on account of a depleted squad. Aritz Aduriz, who has been a glimmer of hope for Athletic Bilbao has accumulated too many yellow cards and will be serving a one match suspension, as will club Captain Carlos Gurpegui, Aymeric Laporte and Oscar de Marcos. Vice Captain Andoni Iraola will be doubtful to start, after picking up a hamstring knock in the 2-1 defeat at Sevilla. With influential figures missing, it could come down heavily on a relatively inexperienced set of players.
Athletic Bilbao will be expected to line up in their familiar 4-2-3-1 formation. In the absence of the likes of Gurpegui and possibly Iraola, a back four comprising of Jonas Ramalho, Borja Ekiza, Aurtenetxe and Castillo will be expected to line up in front of goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz. Two of Athletic Bilbao’s better performers this season, Mikel San Jose and Iturrapse will form the midfield pivot with star performer Markel Susaseta, Ander Herrera and Iker Muniain playing as the attacking trio. With Aduriz ruled out, Fernando Llorente will make his only 3rd start of the season.
With talented wingers-attacking midfielders in Muniain and Susaseta, Athletic Bilbao could cause trouble for Real Madrid down the flanks. Jose San Mikel and Herrera will have to be at their best to cut out through balls into their area ,from Real Madrid, and control the midfield, an area where Bilbao have been found wanting several times during the season.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1) : Iraizoz(GK); Ramalho, Ekiza, Aurtenetxe, Castillo; Jose, Iturrapse; Susaseta, Herrera, Muniain; Llorente
Real Madrid will have Ozil, Kaka, Michael Essien and Arbeloa missing for the clash against Los Leones. The rest of the squad is expected to be ready for the fixture, although it is needless to state that Jose Mourinho will be making several changes to the side that started against Galatasaray in midweek. The Iker Casillas conundrum continues to roll on as well.
Real Madrid will be expected to line-up in the familiar 4-2-3-1 formation. Granted that Diego Lopez once again starts in goal for Real Madrid, he will be assisted by a back four comprising of Sergio Ramos, Raul Albiol, Pepe and Marcelo. Luka Modric will be moving up the midfield, with Sami Khedira taking up his position alongside Xabi Alonso in the midfield pivot. The attacking trio is where Mourinho will be making most of his changes, with youngsters Alvaro Morata and Jose Callejon expected to start on the wings, and Modric playing through the middle, implying that Ronaldo might be rested for the fixture. Karim Benzema will be expected to lead the line in the absence of Higuain.
Athletic Bilbao have looked slow and haggard in the midfield this season, and with a trio of Alonso, Khedira and Modric lining up, Real Madrid can be expected to dominate the midfield and exploit the former’s weakness at through balls. The Basque club’s have weakness at defending set pieces, only heightened by what will be a makeshift backline, is another area that Los Blancos could exploit.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1) : Lopez(GK); Ramos, Albiol, Pepe, Marcelo; Alonso, Khedira; Callejon, Modric, Morata; Benzema
- Real Madrid have won their last six fixtures against Athletic Bilbao in all competitions.
- Real Madrid have won 7 out of their last 8 fixtures in La Liga.
- Athletic Bilbao have lost five of their last eight matches in La Liga.
- With 121 victories as Real Madrid coach, Jose Mourinho is now only behind Vicente Del Bosque and Miguel Munoz, the latter having a significant numerical advantage.
Player to watch out for
Fernando Llorente (Athletic Bilbao)
Fernando Llorente will be making only his third start of the season. The Spaniard has scored just one goal this season and has been clearly distracted will all the rumours and eventually the successful transfer deal with Juventus. Yet he could win back the The Cathedral with a noteworthy performance against Real Madrid; they don’t hate many others like they do the Madridistas.
Athletic Bilbao 1 – 2 Real Madrid
The fixture does not hold a particular importance for both the teams, their fates in La Liga are all but sealed and both must rebuild towards a successful sustained domestic challenge next season. A tight fixture might be on the cards, but Real Madrid will eventually edge it on account of superior bench strength and form.