Estadio San Mames, Bilbao
Sunday, February 2, 20:00 GMT
Gameweek 22 brings to us an exciting fixture as Real Madrid travel to Bilbao to face Athletic at the new San Mames stadium on Sunday. In probably one of the toughest games in the campaign, Real Madrid comes into the game with an 11-match unbeaten streak. While Athletic Bilbao can proudly boast of the fact that no one has been able to beat them at home. Bilbao has won 11 and drawn two in front of their faithful supporters. Real Madrid haven’t conceded a single goal so far in 2014 and will be hoping to continue with that run of form. Meanwhile, Bilbao boasts of being the only team to have beaten Barcelona in the current league campaign in a home game at the same venue. Real Madrid are just a point behind league leaders Atletico and Barca who will also play out some tough fixtures earlier in the week. If any of the two teams slip-up, Real Madrid will surely want to use it to their advantage. On the other hand, Bilbao are comfortably poised at the 4th place 5 points ahead Villareal. However, the Basque-based outfit will certainly want to maintain their unbeaten home record. In this tricky fixture, both teams will have to be gritty and play some top level football to succeed.
These two teams met each other last in a La Liga game at the Santiago Bernabeu. Real Madrid won the game quite comfortably with a 3-1 scoreline.
Team New and Tactics
Sitting comfortably at the 4th place on the La Liga table, Athletic Bilbao have won 11 and drawn two home games this season. The Basque outfit are the only club to steal 3 points from league leaders Barca when the Catalans visited San Mames at the beginning of December. A win will take Bilbao closer to cementing Champions League qualification and make them the only team to beat both Barcelona and Real Madrid this season. Coming back after a difficult fixture at home against Atleti, which they lost, Bilbao will try their best to break Real Madrid’s unbeaten run. This may not be the best time for Los Leones to face the capital-based club. However, their recent successes at home will certainly be a morale booster.
Manager Ernesto Valverde will most probably field a 4-1-4-1. Morena is expected to return between the sticks after he was rested for the mid-week Copa Del Rey game, a back four consisting of Iraola, Jose, Gurpegi and Balenziaga. In the holding midfield role will be Iturraspe. Ahead of Iturraspe will be Laskurain, Herrera, Rico and Gomez as Bilbao may be without midfielder Iker Muniain. Aduriz, who is excellent form will play as the lone forward.
Expected line-up (4-1-4-1): Moreno, Iraola, Jose, Gurpegi, Balenziaga; Iturraspe; Laskurain, Herrera, Rico, Gomez; Aduriz;
With 11-unbeaten matches behind them, there couldn’t have been a better time for Real Madrid to visit the dreaded Estadio San Mames. Just a point behind league leaders, Real Madrid will want to make their title race stronger. Coming into this game after setting up a meeting against Atletico in the Copa Del Rey semi-final after a win against Espanyol, Real Madrid will want to continue their excellent run of form. Real Madrid’s defence has been rock-solid and has not been tested since their 3-2 victory against Valencia in the last game of 2013. While, a victory is a must in order to remain in the title race, a defeat will scar their title chances and may put them 4 points behind league leaders. This may be one of the toughest games for Los Blancos this season. On the other hand, Real Madrid have won on their last three trips to Bilbao in the league.
The team has settled with Carlo Ancelotti’s 4-3-3 and will be expected to play the same formation on Sunday. Diego Lopez will be back in goal after being rested in the mid-week Copa Del Rey clash as has been the case recently. Raphael Varane is back in training but maybe rested for another game before he makes a comeback and Marcelo will be back in the line-up after the Brazilian was rested in the Copa Del Rey game against Espanyol. The back four may consist of Carvajal, Ramos, Pepe and Marcelo. Perched in the middle of the park will be Modric, Alonso and Di Maria. Bale may miss the game as the welshman trained indoors. The front three will consist of Jese, Benzema and league’s leading goal-scorer Ronaldo.
Expected line-up (4-3-3): Lopez; Carvajal, Ramos, Pepe, Marcelo; Modric, Alonso, Di Maria; Jese, Benzema, Ronaldo;
- Athletic have lost eight consecutive league meetings with Real Madrid.
- Real Madrid have won their last three trips to Bilbao in La Liga by the same scoreline: 3-0.
- Real Madrid have kept four successive La Liga clean sheets; they have not kept more since a run of six under Bernd Schuster in 2008.
- Aduriz (three goals, four assists) and Ibai Gomez (five goals) have participated in 10 of Athletic’s last 12 league goals.
- Los Leones have collected three consecutive league wins; they have not won four in a row since February 2011
Athletic Bilbao 1-2 Real Madrid
The game promises a lot and the outcome is difficult to predict. However, going by their current form, expect Real Madrid to win this game by a close margin. They will manage to score a few goals nevertheless.