Previewing Athletic Club vs Real Madrid
Athletic Club will play their third game of the season on Saturday when they welcome Real Madrid to the San Mamés. This will be the first major test for Eduardo Berizzo and Julen Lopetegui, who are both in their first campaigns as managers of their respective clubs, and there is a lot to prove. Real Madrid will be looking to keep their place at the top of the La Liga table while the Basques want to stay in the European zone with a game in hand.
Historically, meetings between the two clubs have been intense and that will likely continue this weekend. Combining Athletic’s pressing style of football with Real Madrid’s dangerous ability to counter attack should lead to a lot of action from the opening whistle. Last season the Lions were able to pull out a scoreless draw at home, while the game at the Santiago Bernabeu ended 1-1 with goals from Iñaki Williams and Cristiano Ronaldo.
The statistics do not favor Athletic in this match with the Lion’s most recent win over Real Madrid at the San Mamés coming back in March of 2015. In that game Aritz Aduriz scored a header to give the Basques the dramatic 1-0 victory. Since then Athletic have lost 2-1 twice before earning one point in last year’s scoreless draw. Additionally, Berizzo has never beaten Madrid in league play and aims to change that this weekend. A lot has changed for both clubs since last season which makes this meeting even more interesting.
So far this season Real Madrid have secured 9 points from their first three matches, scoring 10 total goals and conceding just twice. With Ronaldo gone, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema have been shouldering the scoring load with the pair accounting for seven of the team’s goals. Julen Lopetegui’s side have been playing a more balanced style of football than what they used under Zinedine Zidane, but are just as dangerous as previous seasons.
Meanwhile, Athletic have only played two games so far this year with their match against Rayo Vallecano being postponed before the start of the international break. The Lions were building a good rhythm after beating Leganés in stoppage time and were putting in a good showing against Huesca before allowing the newly promoted side to mount a second half comeback that eventually ended in a 2-2 draw. When Athletic kick off against Real Madrid it will be 19 days since the team last played a meaningful match, but Berizzo has already made it clear that the time off will not be an excuse if the team plays poorly.
Saturday’s match will also see the returns of Aritz Aduriz and Iñigo Martinez. The striker has missed the last month of action after picking up a hamstring injury in the first game of the year, while Martinez has been sidelined since the start of preseason training with a calf strain. Berizzo said in his pregame press conference that both are fully fit and cleared to play against Real Madrid which will give the team a major boost.
At the same time, Iago Herrerín has finally returned to training after nursing a biceps injury, but is still not available according to the manager. Unai Simón is expected to start in goal for the third straight match since making his first team debut against Leganés. This will certainly be the biggest game of his young career, but he has seemed very calm and confident leading up to the fixture.
Several players, as well as the manager, have weighed in on the upcoming match to give their take on what Athletic must do to earn points on Saturday. The common thread among them all is that the Lions will need to make the most of their chances while also minimizing mistakes. It will be up to players like Dani García to control the center of the pitch and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Berizzo start another defensive-minded midfielder beside him.
Although the midfield is always the most important area, the key positional battle will likely take place on Athletic’s left wing. With Gareth Bale in fine form to start the season Yuri Berchiche will be tasked will marking the Welshman, but Iñaki Williams will also be required to track back and help our defensively. In truth, all of Real Madrid’s forwards can cause problems so the Lions will have to be careful so as not to give their visitors too much space to create chances.
Real Madrid always pose a major threat, even on the road, but Athletic have appeared confident leading up to the game and have been focusing heavily on defensive adjustments during training. A draw would be a good result for the Lions although the players will be going into this match looking to take all three points. It won’t be easy, but the San Mamés is always a fortress and the fans will have it roaring on Saturday.
Projected Athletic Club XI: Unai Simón, Oscar De Marcos, Yeray, Iñigo Martinez, Yuri Berchiche, Dani García, Raúl García, Iker Muniain, Iñaki Williams, Aritz Aduriz, Markel Susaeta