Real Madrid will be looking to continue their perfect start to the season when they travel to San Mames to take on Athletic Bilbao on Saturday.
La Liga action resumes this weekend with Matchday 4 following the end of the fortnight-long international break. In the Basque country, two of the remaining unbeaten sides in the Spanish top-flight will face, when Athletic Bilbao play hosts to Real Madrid at San Mames on Saturday night.
Athletic Bilbao have only played two matches thus far this season, as compared to three for most of the other sides, as their match at Rayo Vallecano was postponed due to the temporary closure of the Vallecas Stadium. The Basque outfit though, are yet to lose a game, having collected four points from a possible six.
On the other hand, life under Julen Lopetegui is all hunky dory for Real Madrid, at least since the La Liga season kicked off. With a perfect record after their first three games, Los Blancos are second on the league table, just behind bitter rivals Barcelona on goal difference.
The corresponding fixture last season ended in a goalless draw, with Sergio Ramos’s dismissal being the most notable moment of the game. Ahead of the latest meeting between Athletic Bilbao and Real Madrid on Saturday, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the encounter.
Team News & Tactics
Eduardo Berizzo has a few injury concerns to deal with ahead of the visit of Real Madrid. On Saturday, the Athletic Bilbao boss could be without as many as three first-team players, with Inigo Lekue definitely missing out due to a broken ankle that has put him out of action for the rest of the year.
Veteran striker Aritz Aduriz has trained all week after recovering from a hamstring strain, and is in contention to feature against Real Madrid. But, Inaki Williams is likely to retain his spot as the focal point of the Bilbao attack.
Meanwhile, Iago Herrerin is unlikely to be available this week even though he has recovered from an elbow injury. For now, academy graduate Unai Simon is likely to retain his place between the sticks, having impressed in his two appearances so far this season.
At the back, Inigo Martinez could come into the side in place of Peru Nolaskoain, partnering Yeray Alvarez at the heart of the Bilbao defence. The full-backs are likely to be Oscar de Marcos and Yuri Berchiche, who will be tasked with bombarding up and down their respective flanks, and overlap the wingers on either side of attack.
In midfield, Dani Garcia has been preferred ahead of Mikel San Jose, and he will be tasked with providing the cover in front of the back four, providing the front five with the freedom to press forward. The attackers will also be responsible for pressing aggressively so as to retrieve the ball quickly from Real Madrid in the final third itself.
While Inaki Williams will lead the line, Raul Garcia and Iker Muniain will provide the creative impetus from central positions. Ivan Cordoba and Markel Suasaeta are likely to man the wide areas in attack, with their pacy outlet being the perfect compliment for Garcia, Muniain and Williams.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-1-4-1): Simon; de Marcos, Alvarez, Martinez, Yuri; Dani Garcia; Susaeta, Raul Garcia, Muniain, Cordoba; Williams
Julen Lopetegui will be without the services of just one player, with Jesus Vallejo unlikely to be fit enough to be available this weekend. The young Spaniard though, has made good progress in his recovery from a thigh injury, and should soon be in contention in the coming weeks.
On Saturday, the Real Madrid boss will have two key decisions to make, with one eye on the crunch UEFA Champions League midweek game against AS Roma. The first of the decisions is regarding the choice of the goalkeeper, with Keylor Navas in line to return to action for Los Blancos this weekend.
The Costa Rican goalkeeper may just get the nod ahead of Thibaut Courtois, with the usual back four of Dani Carvajal, Raphael Varane, Sergio Ramos and Marcelo starting against Athletic Bilbao. Meanwhile, the other key decision for Lopetegui will be zeroing in on his midfield personnel.
Reports have suggested that Casemiro may be rested – or named on the bench – following a late return from international duty with Brazil this week. In his stead, Isco could return to the lineup, starting in the no. 10 role, with Luka Modric and Toni Kroos lining up in the midfield pivot.
The Spain midfielder will be key in the final third with his link-up abilities, and his presence should free up Marco Asensio, who will be eager to build on his exploits against Croatia earlier this week. Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema will complete the attacking unit, with the duo looking to continue their fine run of form.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-2-3-1): Navas; Carvajal, Varane, Ramos, Yuri; Modric, Kroos; Bale, Isco, Asensio; Benzema
- Each of the meetings between Real Madrid and Athletic Bilbao last season ended as stalemates, with just two goals in all scored in as many games.
- Real Madrid are unbeaten in their last six meetings against Athletic Bilbao, with last season’s twin draws bringing an end to a run of four successive wins.
- Athletic Bilbao have been in decent scoring form this season, scoring twice in each of their two games thus far. The Basque outfit would fancy their chances of finding the back of the net against Real Madrid, having netted in six of the last seven meetings between the two sides.
- Gareth Bale is on his best scoring run for Real Madrid in La Liga, having netted in each of his last seven appearances in the Spanish top flight.
- Karim Benzema, with four goals in the first three games, has already equalled his league tally from last season.
Player to Watch
After a short stint with PSG, Yuri Berchiche is back in the Basque country, this time with Athletic Bilbao. And, the start to life in familiar surroundings has been a solid one, with the 28-year-old even finding the back of the net last time around against Huesca.
With Real Madrid set to come visiting on Saturday, Berchiche will have a key role, not just with his potential in the final third but also with the responsibility of keeping Gareth Bale quiet. A tough game awaits for Yuri Berchiche, and a solid outing could go a long way in stifling Los Blancos.
Athletic Bilbao 1-2 Real Madrid
It has been smooth sailing for the most part for Julen Lopetegui & co. after the first three games. But, Athletic Bilbao, who look rejuvenated under Eduardo Berizzo, will present the new Real Madrid boss on Saturday. With both sides playing possession-based football, the result will be down to slim margins.
It is here where the gulf in quality, coupled with the stunning form of their forwards should pull Real Madrid through. Add to it, the fact that the majority of the Athletic Bilbao players will be playing their first game in three weeks, which could work against them as well. The Hard Tackle predicts a closely contested game, with Real Madrid narrowly winning 2-1.