Real Madrid will be looking to strengthen their hold at the top of the La Liga standings when they take on Athletic Bilbao on Sunday afternoon.

Real Madrid have a great chance to extend their lead at the top of the La Liga table seven points when they face off against Athletic Bilbao at the San Mames this weekend.

Zinedine Zidane’s men have capitalised on Barcelona’s recent slip-ups to open up a four-point gap, following a 1-0 win over Getafe on Thursday. They have now won all six of their matches since the restart of the season. With the Catalans scheduled to play later on Sunday, the current leaders can take another step towards a title triumph with a victory this weekend.

Athletic Bilbao, on the other hand, are currently eighth in the table, four points behind Getafe in the sixth spot. The Basque outfit have lost just one of their last six matches (W3 D2), with their last two games ending in impressive wins over Mallorca and Valencia. Gaizka Garitano & co. will be aiming to carry that momentum forward and close the gap to the top six with a win.

The reverse fixture, played at the Santiago Bernabeu in December last year, had ended in a goalless stalemate. And ahead of their latest meeting this weekend, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at both the teams.

Team News & Tactics

Athletic Bilbao

Garitano has almost his entire squad available for the game against Real Madrid with Benat Etxebarria the only player to miss out. He is unlikely to make a whole lot of changes to the side that defeated Valencia 2-0 last time out.

Unai Simon is a guaranteed starter in goal, with the team lining up in a 4-2-3-1 formation in front of him. Ander Capa and Yuri Berchiche ought to line up as the full-backs on the right and left sides respectively. Yeray Alvarez and Inigo Martinez ought to continue at the heart of the defence, although Unai Nunez is also an option that the manager might consider.

Dani Garcia is a certain starter in the two-man midfield pivot for the hosts. He could be in for a change of partners though, with Mikel Vesga likely to get the nod over Unai Lopez. The duo will be key to thwarting Real Madrid’s creative output.

The front four for Athletic pretty much picks itself as Inaki Williams and Inigo Cordoba are likely to start on the flanks, with captain Iker Muniain slotting in as the No. 10. Spearheading the attack for the home team should be Raul Garcia, who scored a brace in the last game.

Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Simon; Capa, Alvarez, Martinez, Berchiche; Dani Garcia, Vesga; Williams, Muniain, Cordoba; Raul Garcia

Real Madrid

Real Madrid will be without two of their main players in Raphael Varane and Eden Hazard. The former picked up an injury last time out against Getafe, while Hazard, who had missed that match with a slight ankle issue, is rested again. Nacho also remains unavailable for selection for Zinedine Zidane.

Eden Hazard misses out for Real Madrid (Photo by Jose Jordan/AFP via Getty Images)

Eden Hazard misses out for Real Madrid (Photo by Jose Jordan/AFP via Getty Images)

Varane’s absence should mean Eder Militao will start at the heart of the Madrid defence alongside captain Sergio Ramos. Marcelo should return to the lineup at left-back replacing Marcelo, while Dani Carvajal is a certainty on the right. Thibaut Courtois will look to carry forward his brilliant form and strengthen his chances for the Zamora Trophy.

There is no looking past Casemiro in the holding midfield role for Real Madrid. The Brazilian ought to be flanked by the ever-present Toni Kroos and Federico Valverde, who should replace Luka Modric after being benched for the previous fixture.

Isco hasn’t been able to make the necessary impact in the final third in the last two matches and as a result, is likely to be axed on Sunday. Rodrygo Goes could get a look-in on the right flank, while Vinicius Junior should hold on to his place on the left, although Marco Asensio will be pushing for a start after impressing from the bench.

Karim Benzema is the undisputed starter in the centre-forward role for the visitors, with Mariano and Luka Jovic acting as backups.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Courtois; Carvajal, Militao, Ramos, Marcelo; Valverde, Casemiro, Kroos; Rodrygo, Benzema, Vinicius Jr.

Key Stats

  • Real Madrid are unbeaten in their last four La Liga matches played at San Mames (W2 D2). Their last defeat at the ground in the league came in march 2015 under Carlo Ancelotti.
  • Athletic Bilbao are winless in their last nine La Liga matches against Real Madrid (D4 L5), drawing four of the last five (L1).
  • Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane has managed seven league games against Athletic and is yet to taste defeat (W4 D3). Only against Celta Vigo (W6 D2), has he managed a longer unbeaten run in the league.
  • Athletic Bilbao’s Raul Garcia has already scored six goals at home in la Liga this term. He is just one away from matching his best scoring record on home soil in a single top-flight season (7 for Osasuna in 2011/12 and 7 for Atletico Madrid in 2013/14).
  • Real Madrid star Karim Benzema has been involved in one goal in each of his last three away matches in La Liga (two goals and one assist).

Player to Watch

Vinicius Junior

Time for Vinicius to deliver (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)

Time for Vinicius to deliver (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)

The Brazilian teenage sensation had been in decent touch over the past couple of weeks. However, he struggled to make any sort of impact in the previous match against Getafe on Thursday night. With Eden Hazard not available, Real Madrid will need Vinicius to step up and provide that bit of ingenuity and imagination in the final third in order to open up the Athletic defence.

The 19-year-old has posted a tally of five goals and four assists in 34 matches across all competitions in the ongoing campaign. Given his ability and potential, Vinicius is capable of doing much better and he needs to step it up a notch, starting this Sunday against Athletic Bilbao.

Prediction

Athletic Bilbao 0-1 Real Madrid

Athletic Bilbao come into the game on the back of consecutive wins. Los Leones are yet to lose at home since the restart of the season and are sure to make life difficult for Real Madrid. However, the table toppers have shown they have the mettle to grind out results in difficult situations like they did in the last couple of matches against Espanyol and Getafe.

In addition, Los Blancos haven’t lost on their last four visits to the San Mames. The absence of Eden Hazard and Raphael Varane will be felt, no doubt. But Zinedine Zidane & co. have momentum on their side and with the La Liga title almost within their grasp, they should be able to eke out another narrow win this weekend.

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