Atletico Madrid will be hoping to hold on to their top spot in the La Liga title race as they take on Athletic Bilbao on Sunday.
As we head towards the final stretch of the campaign, the title race in La Liga is beginning to go down the wire, with league leaders Atletico Madrid only holding a narrow lead of just two points at the top.
With just six matches remaining, and Barcelona having a game in hand, things could shift drastically, with even fourth-placed Sevilla having a legitimate chance of making a late push.
Atletico Madrid, however, will be hoping to strengthen their grip at the top when they lock horns with Athletic Bilbao on Sunday. Coming on the back of consecutive wins over Eibar and Huesca, things could get much tougher against the Basque outfit, who have famously played in two Copa del Rey finals this year – losing both.
In La Liga, Bilbao are currently in mid-table, drawing all of their last five league matches. Interestingly, their last defeat in the league came against Atletico Madrid, in the reverse fixture, with Los Colchoneros sealing a narrow 2-1 victory at the Wanda Metropolitano.
Diego Simeone’s men will be hoping for a similar result this time around, and here, at The Hard Tackle, we will run the rule over both these sides ahead of this vital encounter at San Mames this weekend.
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💪 All set for #AthleticAtleti tomorrow (21:00 CEST)
— Athletic Club (@Athletic_en) April 24, 2021
Marcelino has a few pressing injury concerns hampering his preparations for this crucial match-up against Atletico Madrid. On Sunday, the Athletic Bilbao manager could be bereft of the services of as many as four first-team players, including Yeray Alvarez, Yuri Berchiche, Peru Nolaskoain and most importantly, club captain Iker Muniain.
It doesn’t bode well for the hosts, although they are likely to field a much stronger side than the one that faced Real Betis, recalling Inaki Williams and Raul Garcia as they look to spearhead the Bilbao attack this weekend.
These two offer an ideal variety of pace and experience, but one pressing concern for Marcelino will be the creative unit, with Muniain and Berchiche out injured.
Oscar de Marcos could be shifted to a more attacking role, occupying the wide role alongside Alex Berenguer as they look to cause problems on the flanks, with their crosses into the box.
In midfield, Marcelino is expected to recall both Dani Garcia and Unai Lopez, although in Unai Vencedor and Mikel Vesga, the Bilbao coach has more than able alternatives. It will be interesting to see how these two fare up against Atletico’s dynamic second line of press.
The biggest responsibility, however, will be on the defence as the ageing Mikel Balenziaga hopes to deputise once again, for the injured Alvarez, albeit in a wider role while de Marcos’ likely ascension upfront could see Ander Capa return to the fray.
Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Simon; Capa, Nunez, Martinez, Balenziaga; De Marcos, D. Garcia, Lopez, Berenguer; Williams, R. Garcia
Atletico Madrid’s approach in this game could hugely depend on how Athletic Bilbao operate in their 4-4-2, knowing a three-man backline would be ideal against a high press but a rather ineffective one should the opposition look to defend deep in their lines.
Bilbao 👋 pic.twitter.com/3KZN1oYahk
— Atlético de Madrid (@atletienglish) April 24, 2021
Fortunately, Diego Simeone has a versatile unit, especially in the defensive unit as left-back Renan Lodi can effortlessly slot into a left centre-back position, joining the central defenders in Stefan Savic and Felipe, who could come in to replace the suspended Jose Gimenez.
Kieran Trippier would usually serve as the right-back, but he is expected more like an out and out wing-back due to his attacking tendencies. His crosses could indeed be vital to Atletico’s chance-creation in this game, especially if Bilbao do operate with a deep defensive line this weekend.
Hector Herrera has become more of a prominent figure in the Atletico midfield recently. The Mexican international is thus hoping to continue his partnership alongside Koke in the double-pivot, with the more attacking-minded Saul drifting centrally into midfield, should Los Colchoneros maintain a 4-4-2.
It would essentially see the two wide attackers in Saul and Yannick Ferreira Carrasco joining the second line of press, with Saul likely to operate in midfield alongside Herrera while Carrascao can feature in his preferred left-wing position, hoping to supply the centre-forwards in Angel Correa and Marcos Llorente, as Simeone continues to deal with the absence of Luis Suarez and Joao Felix.
Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Oblak; Trippier, Savic, Felipe, Lodi; Saul, Koke, Hector, Carrasco; Llorente, Correa
- Athletic Club have won just one of their last 15 meetings Vs Atletico Madrid in La Liga, 2-0 at San Mames in March 2019 under Gaizka Garitano.
- Athletic Club have collected points in their last two home games vs Atletico Madrid in La Liga, after losing four of their previous five such games in the competition.
- Atletico Madrid have won five of their last eight games at San Mames in all competitions; only Barcelona have won more often in this venue.
- Athletic Bilbao have lost only one of their seven league home games under Marcelino, a 2-3 defeat to Barcelona in his very first match.
- Atletico Madrid are winless in their last three league games away from home, their worst run without winning as visitors in La Liga this season.
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With Suarez and Felix once again missing in action, Atletico Madrid will once again turn their hopes towards Angel Correa to deliver in front of goal. The Argentine has already been in excellent form, scoring twice in the win over Eibar, before starring in the recent triumph over Huesca. In fact, he has been involved in a total of four goals in the last three matches.
Although not a potent goalscorer like Suarez, Correa can offer those sharp movements as well as the dynamism that could make life difficult for the Bilbao backline. His partnership with Marcos Llorente, in particular, will be a vital aspect of Atletico’s attack and it could go a long way in helping Simeone’s men gain all three points this weekend.
Athletic Bilbao 0-1 Atletico Madrid
This promises to be a low-scoring affair as Atletico Madrid are inherently a defence-oriented team under Diego Simeone. They do have the advantage given Bilbao’s depleted defensive unit, but with frontline strikers like Suarez and Felix missing, things could really go down the wire, especially with Los Rojiblancos struggling away from home.
However, Athletic Bilbao’s morale will have taken a huge hit after two back-to-back Copa Del Rey losses, and haven’t exhibited good form recently. As such, it is advantage Atletico Madrid.