Previewing Real Madrid vs Athletic Club: LaLiga Matchday 18
Confidence has been one of the major factors in Athletic’s success this season and confidence will be needed more than ever on Sunday. As the Lions travel to the Santiago Bernabéu they do so knowing that it will be one of the most difficult games of the entire season. Real Madrid rarely drop points at home but the Basques believe they can stun Los Blancos and bring a victory back home to Bilbao.
A win in Madrid is long overdue. It’s been nearly 15 years since Athletic were last victorious at the Bernabéu, but the streak must end at some point. The Basques haven’t beaten Madrid in any fixture since March of 2015 in a game at San Mamés and are winless in their last eight games. Over that time Real Madrid have recorded five wins, though Athletic have pushed them to the brink on a few occassions.
After a poor start to the season Real Madrid were able to turn things around, though they will enter Sunday’s game coming off of two straight draws against Valencia and Barcelona. Playing at the home with the pressure of needing to end the small winless streak will make Zinedine Zidane’s side more dangerous and motivated than ever. Real Madrid will want to make a statement against Athletic but will have to do so without a few key players.
To begin with, Eden Hazard and Marcelo will miss yet another game due to injuries while Casemiro will serve a one-game suspension for yellow card accumulation. To make matters worse, Sergio Ramos is questionable for the fixture as well after picking up an ankle injury in the draw with Barcelona. Despite the absences, Zidane will have several other players ready to step up.
Similarly, Athletic are also in need of a victory following a loss to Real Betis and draw against Eibar. The Zurigorri are currently tied with Valencia for 7th in the La Liga table and can’t drop lower than 8th even if they lose, but taking all three points could lift Athletic as high as 4th depending on other results. Beating Real Madrid would also be a tremendous way to close out 2019 and boost morale heading into the holiday break.
Gaizka Garitano will also have to contend with absences as Iker Muniain, Aritz Aduriz, and Oscar De Marcos are all ruled out with injuries. Ander Capa will also be unavailable due to suspension which means that Iñigo Lekue will be expected to make his first league start of the season at right-back. Interestingly, Lekue has played his best football in matches against Real Madrid and Barcelona, making this a big opportunity for the Lezama product.
The Mister will have several big decisions to make regarding the lineup. During the week the team trained with three center-backs at one point, suggesting they could use a different lineup against Real Madrid, while Garitano must also sort out the midfield with Beñat, Mikel San José, Unai López, and Oihan Sancet all vying for two positions. With so many options to choose from, Garitano must get the selection right for Athletic to have the best chance of upsetting their hosts.
Success against Real Madrid starts with defending. Athletic have made it extremely difficult for any opponent to score goals this season and if they are able to play their game at the Bernabéu it could frustrate Madrid and open up space for Iñaki Williams and Raúl García to attack. Organization will be key to a good performance, however Athletic’s fate will ultimately be decided by whether or not the Lions are able to finish their chances in front of goal.
Projected Athletic Club XI: Unai Simón, Iñigo Lekue, Yeray, Iñigo Martinez, Yuri Berchiche, Dani García, Mikel San José, Iñaki Williams, Unai López, Ibai Gómez, Raúl García