What: Spanish La Liga
Who: Atletico Madrid vs Athletic Bilbao
When: Wednesday 21st March, 2012, at 19:00 UK time
Where: Vicente Calderon, Madrid, Spain

Could Not Do It

Atletico Madrid missed the chance to continue their good form as they slipped away from home on the tiny island of Mallorca at the weekend. This result leaves the side in ninth position in the standings, a full five points away from fourth-placed Levante. With a wealth of rivals above them, Atletico are leaning more towards a Europa League spot. For now however, they have to find their groove against a wounded Athletic Bilbao side.

Two quick goals from Mallorca at the start of the second half could not be cancelled out by a Radamel Falcao strike, which proved to be nothing more than a consolation prize for the travelling side. Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois is keen for the team to put the disappointment behind them, and quickly bounce back at the Vicente Calderon.

 “We are all very annoyed, but the team want to turn this page because Wednesday we have a vital game against Athletic”, said the Belgian.

Atletico may also want revenge for this season’s reverse fixture, a 3-0 thrashing at the San Mames.

Wounded Animal

It was strange to see the side that caught the eye of England and Europe by defeating Premier League champions Manchester United over two legs, capitulate in dramatic fashion at home against third-placed Valencia at the weekend. Pumped full of confidence, Athletic Bilbao entered the game with the intention of clinching all three points. Instead, their Champions League aspirations for next year took a turn for the worse.

“During the match I thought I solved problems that could have aided us more in attack. I made the decision to shake up the team a bit, while also keeping the attack using [Markel] Susaeta, Ibai [Gomez] and [Iker] Muniain and to attack as well with [Oscar] de Marcos and [Jon] Aurtenetxe”, said coach Marcelo Bielsa after the game, as he assumed responsibility for the defeat.

Athletic are still missing names such as Aitor Ocio and Xabier Castillo, while team vice-captain Andoni Iraola will sit this one out after seeing a red card against Los Che. However, with the likes of Fernando Llorente and Iker Muniain in the side, Athletic will fancy their chances of a surprise win at the Vicente Calderon.

Recent form

Atletico Madrid:
Atletico Madrid 2-0 Granada (11/03; La Liga)
Besiktas 0-3 Atletico Madrid (15/03; Europa League)
Mallorca 2-1 Atletico Madrid (18/03; La Liga)

Athletic Bilbao:
Osasuna 2-1 Athletic Bilbao (11/03; La Liga)
Athletic Bilbao 2-1 Manchester United (15/03; Europa League)
Athletic Bilbao 0-3 Valencia (18/03; La Liga)

Key absences

Atletico Madrid: Silvio; Diego; Tiago

Athletic Bilbao: Igor Martinez; Aitor Ocio; Carlos Gurpegui; Xabier Castillo; Andoni Iraola (suspended)

Players to watch

Atletico Madrid – Arda Turan: The winger’s light has somewhat dimmed at the Vicente Calderon, despite being the most expensive Turkish player of all-time. Turan is still however a healthy prospect in midfield, and should he be on top form, he can cause Athletic all sorts of problems.

Athletic Bilbao – Iker Muniain: Fernando Llorente might be the club’s talisman, but that is not to say that Muniain is not building a reputation of his own at the San Mames. With his light frame and pace, he is considered the Basque Romario. While he is light-years away from the mythical Brazilian, Muniain is a hot prospect nonetheless.

Match Prediction

This game promises to be an entertaining one, with two of the fancied Europa League contenders for this season. Athletic Bilbao will want to make amends for their recent heavy loss, but are certain to face a tough opposition against Atletico Madrid. Under Bielsa’s guidance, however, a victory is possible for Los Leones. Expect them to win 2-1.

Atletico Madrid v Athletic Bilbao is a key game in the battle to finish in La Liga’s top four. Who will win? Make sure you visit OLBG for tips and to compare the current odds and betting markets available at all the important bookmakers.