Athletic Club are only four points off the European zone of the La Liga table but only have eleven games remaining to make up that ground. This weekend’s match will not make that easy as the Lions will host league-leaders Real Madrid at the San Mames on Saturday. Ernesto Valverde’s side will have their work cut out for them, but you can guarantee that the Basques will play a very intense match in front of their own fans.
The last time Athletic took points off of Real Madrid was back in March of 2015 when they won 1-0 at the San Mames thanks to goal from Aritz Aduriz. Thankfully, the Lions have been dominant at home in league play this season. Athletic have only lost one league game at the San Mames this year, a 1-0 thriller against Barcelona in their home opener. In fact, through the 14 La Liga games at the San Mames, Athletic have only conceded 13 goals. It’s clear just how good Valverde’s team has been in Bilbao, but that won’t make the match against the Whites any easier.
Zinedine Zidane’s side comes into the game with a two-point lead at the top of the table with a game in hand. They have scored 69 goals this season and definitely have the fire power to make things difficult for Aymeric Laporte and company. Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, and Karim Benzema are all expected to play, meaning they will be at their most dangerous. Still, matches between these two have often led to fireworks no matter who is on the field. Watch out for Ander Iturraspe and Cristiano Ronaldo who have had run-ins in the past.
Real Madrid will be without defenders Pepe and Raphael Varane who both miss out due to injury. That means that Nacho is expected to start alongside Sergio Ramos. Athletic could look to take advantage of this with Aritz Aduriz and Raul Garcia pushing the issue at the top of the box. For the hosts, only Mikel San Jose (suspension) and Sabin Merino (injury) will miss the game. Ander Iturraspe should fill in for San Jose and have been in great form over the last few weeks. Luckily, Aritz Aduriz and Oscar De Marcos are expected to return to the starting lineup for the Lions.
On paper, Real Madrid is the better team. The front three can create chaos at any time and the midfield pairing of Luka Modric and Toni Kroos can dictate play at a very high level. If Athletic want to take away points in this one they will have to play an intense match and push their visitors from the opening whistle. They certainly have the personnel to make things very difficult for their opponents, but this game should come down to the little details. Athletic’s finishing and positioning will either win or lose this game, so focus will be as important as ever.
Can the Lions keep their point street at home alive against the top team in the league? Will the absence of Real Madrid’s defenders cause problems? We will have to wait for kickoff to find out. Regardless, this promises to be a highly entertaining match.
Projected Athletic Club XI: Kepa Arrizabalaga, Oscar De Marcos, Yeray, Aymeric Laporte, Mikel Balenziaga, Ander Iturraspe, Benat, Inaki Williams, Raul Garcia, Iker Muniain, Aritz Aduriz