Real Madrid will be aiming to extend their lead at the top of the La Liga table when they travel to San Mames to face Athletic Bilbao.

Marcelino will be eyeing massive improvements in performances and results from his Athletic Bilbao side, who sit tenth in La Liga. A run of draws seem to have affected their points tally as the Basque club only has five wins and 24 points to show for their efforts.

There are certainly visible improvements from Marcelino’s men on the pitch, who will be hoping their recent win will provide the confidence needed to beat Real Madrid. Before Sunday’s game against Real Betis, Bilbao were on an 8-game winless streak, although two goals from Inaki Williams were crucial to collect three points in a 3-2 victory.

Their opponents, Real Madrid, have improved massively in the domestic competition since the arrival of Carlo Ancelotti in the summer. Some problems under Zinedine Zidane have been rectified expertly as the Italian is getting the best out of his players. With results improving, Los Blancos sit five points ahead of second-placed Sevilla, who played out a 1-1 draw against Barcelona on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Ancelotti’s men sit a massive 14 points ahead of champions Atletico Madrid and have made themselves favourites for the La Liga crown. The weekend draw with Cadiz ended their ten-match winning run in all competitions, although much of that blame lies with the rising Covid cases in the squad. Against Bilbao, Ancelotti’s side will be looking for their 14th league victory of the season as they seek to strengthen their grip at the top.

Team News & Tactics

Athletic Bilbao

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The home side will be without a few key players for the Real Madrid clash as injuries and Covid continue to disrupt team preparations across La Liga. At least two Covid cases have been detected in the squad and an additional three players are confirmed absent through injuries.

Goalkeeper Unai Simon and Inigo Martinez tested positive for Covid, while Yuri Berchiche, Asier Villalibre and Alex Berenguer are all missing through injuries. Meanwhile, Dani Vivian and Peru Nolaskoain are also doubts, although they might be assessed before the clash.

Marcelino will look to field his regular 4-4-2 setup with Julen Agirrezabala taking Simon’s place in goal. A central defensive partnership of Unai Nunez and Yeray Alvarez is expected to take shape, with Mikel Balenziaga and Inigo Lekue playing as full-backs on either flank.

Dani Garcia and Unai Venecedor should be the preferred central midfielders, with Iker Muniain and Nico Williams fitting into wide roles. Marcelino might prefer Inaki Williams and Raul Garcia to lead the line for this crucial clash.

Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Agirrezabala; Lekue, Alvarez, Nunez, Balenziaga; N.Williams, Vencedor, D. Garcia, Muniain; I.Williams, R. Garcia

Real Madrid

Like other managers in La Liga, Ancelotti will have to deal with the Covid problems, possibly more than the others. As many as eight players could miss out due to the virus, with David Alaba, Gareth Bale, Isco and Andriy Lunin testing positive. After testing positive initially, Luka Modric returned a negative result but has still been left out. Marco Asensio, Marcelo also miss out.

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Casemiro will have to serve a suspension, while Dani Carvajal is a fitness concern, meaning Lucas Vazquez will deputise for him at right-back. With Alaba not in the squad to face Bilbao, Nacho could start in place of the Austrian.

Ancelotti will continue with the 4-3-3, as despite the many absentees, the Italian will have a strong set of players to field. Thibaut Courtois will be present in goal, with a back four of Vazquez, Eder Militao, Nacho and Ferland Mendy.

Federico Valverde will replace Casemiro at the base of midfield, with Toni Kroos and Eduardo Camavinga on either side of him. Eden Hazard and Karim Benzema are available and ready for starts, while Vinicius Junior will play from the left side of the attack.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Courtois; Vazquez, Militao, Nacho, Mendy; Kroos, Valverde, Camavinga; Hazard, Benzema, Vinicius

Key Stats

  • Athletic Bilbao have not won against Real Madrid since March 2015.
  • Athletic Bilbao have lost five of their last six games against Real Madrid in La Liga.
  • Real Madrid are unbeaten in 22 of their last 23 away matches in La Liga.
  • Real Madrid have kept a clean sheet in their last four matches in La Liga.
  • Real Madrid are unbeaten in 13 of their last 14matches against Athletic Bilbao in all competitions.

Player To Watch

Karim Benzema

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The French forward is having a sensational season on all fronts with a return of 18 goals across all competitions. Moreover, he has eight assists to show for his efforts in the final third this term, making him one of the most potent forwards in Europe.

His goals and overall displays have made Real Madrid the favourites to win the La Liga this term. Against Bilbao, he needs to continue keeping his level of performance intact. Ancelotti will be relying on Benzema’s expertise to get the team over the line after a minor misstep in the weekend clash against Cadiz. Having enjoyed a brilliant 2021, the 34-year-old will want to sign off on a high.

Prediction

Athletic Bilbao 1-2 Real Madrid

Real Madrid have been flying this term, and having suffered just the one loss so far. They have had a good run away from home and are currently unbeaten in ten games in La Liga. Moreover, their forwards are hitting the right chords, scoring plenty of goals.

However, Marcelino’s side have been resilient for most parts and might prove a tricky customer for the Madrid forward line. Yet, we expect the visitors to nick all three points given the quality they possess in their ranks.

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