The San Mames Stadium will host the first meeting between Athletic Bilbao and reigning champions Real Madrid tonight this season in match week fourteen of the La Liga.

The hosts have been having a terrible season so far. They are currently 16th on the table, 6 points away from the relegation zone. They’ve won only 3 matches in the La Liga this season and just got knocked out of the Copa del Rey by Formentera on Wednesday.

Real Madrid aren’t doing too well either, by their usual lofty standards. They are currently placed fourth on the table, level on points with arch rivals Atletico Madrid. They already lost 2 games this season and are a solid 8 points behind league leaders Barcelona.

Tactics

Athletic Bilbao

Jose Angel Ziganda is expected to be without the likes of Iker Muniain,  Benat Etxebarria and Oscar de Marcos through injury, while Aymeric Laporte is out suspended. After resting key players in their midweek loss to Formentera, Ziganda is expected to revert to a full strength starting XI.

Kepa Arrizabalaga is expected to return to goal, while Nuno Boveda, Unai Nunez and Mikel Balenziaga are expected to come into the starting XI and join Xabier Etxeita in defence. Mikel Rico and Ander Iturraspe will likely be brought into the starting XI to replace the two Mikels, Vesga and San Jose.

Raul Garcia and Markel Susaeta are expected to come in and join Inaki Williams in the attacking midfield roles while the evergreen Artiz Aduriz will likely lead the line against Los Blancos tonight.

Probable Starting XI(4-2-3-1): Kepa Arrizabalaga; Eneko Boveda, Xabier Etxeita, Unai Nunez,  Mikel Balenziaga; Mikel Rico, Ander Iturraspe; Inaki Williams, Raul Garcia, Markel Susaeta; Artiz Aduriz

Real Madrid vs Athletic Bilbao(2)

Real Madrid

Zidane is only expected to be without Marco Asensio and Gareth Bale for this tie. Zidane made 11 changes to the side that started against Malaga and fielded a side comprising largely of youth players against Fuenlabrada in the second leg of their Copa de Rey Round of 16 tie.

However, its unlikely that any of those players besides Keylor Navas is going to start at the San Mames. We expect Marcelo, Sergio Ramos, Raphael Varane and Dani Carvajal to all come back into defence and Toni Kroos, Casemiro and Luka Modric are expected to make up the 3 man midfield.

Isco, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo are the obvious choice for making up the front three. Isco with the free role in behind the strikers and Ronaldo and Benzema leading the line as a 2-man strike force.

Probable Starting XI(4-3-1-2): Keylor Navas; Dani Carvajal, Raphael Varane, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo;Luka Modric, Casemiro, Toni Kroos; Isco; Karim Benzema, Cristiano Ronaldo

Athletic Bilbao vs Real Madrid(1)

Key Statistics

  • Real Madrid have won 23 of their last 26 matches against Athletic Bilbao in all competitions.
  • Real Madrid have scored a minimum of 2 goals in 13 of their last 15 matches against Athletic Bilbao in all competitions.
  • Real Madrid have won only 3 of their last 6 matches in all competitions.
  • Athletic Bilbao have failed to win 9 out of their last 10 La Liga matches.
  • Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema has scored 9 goals and provided 6 assists in 16 matches against Athletic Bilbao.

Player To Watch

Cristiano Ronaldo

Real Madrid's Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo kicks the ball during the Spanish league football match Athletic Club Bilbao vs Real Madrid CF at the San Mames stadium in Bilbao on March 18, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / ANDER GILLENEA (Photo credit should read ANDER GILLENEA/AFP/Getty Images)

Cristiano Ronaldoin action during the Spanish league football match against Athletic Club Bilbao at the San Mames stadium in Bilbao on March 18, 2017. (Picture Courtesy – Getty Images)

The Portuguese superstar has netted 16 times and provided 7 assists in 16 games against Athletic Bilbao. This has been a difficult season for Ronaldo. While he has enjoyed himself in the Champions League, he’s only netter twice in the League so far, but is slowly beginning to find his stride. It remains to be seen whether facing one of his favourite opponents helps bring the best out of him.

Prediction

Athletic Bilbao 1-2 Real Madrid

Real Madrid have made a habit of churning out results this season and we expect them to leave the San Mames with all three points. Jose Angel Ziganda’s men will definitely not make it easy on them, but given they form his side are on, a fully fit and rested Los Blancos shouldn’t have too much trouble coming out of this tie victorious.

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