What: Spanish La Liga
Who: Athletic Bilbao vs Real Madrid
When: Sunday 14th April, 2013, at 20:00 UK Time
Where: San Mames, Bilbao, Spain

Tough Task

With each passing week, the final picture of this La Liga puzzle looks to unravel. With eight games left to play – and a potential 24 points – however, all teams still have the ability to change their fate around. One such team are Athletic Bilbao, who sit in fourteenth place.

Marcelo Bielsa’s team have not been able to reproduce the good results that were their trademark in the past two seasons, and will want to record a win over adversaries Real Madrid. But the Basque side suffered big defeats the last two times the league champions travelled to the San Mames – losing 3-0 on both occasions – and with their opponents taking a break from Champions League football until the semi-finals, managing a win will be even more difficult.

Athletic Bilbao’s opponents have won by at least three goals the last six times the two sides have met, but Ander Iturraspe believes that his team will not change their style against the nine-time European Cup winners.

“We will try to press up, add more people in the build-up and maintain our style and that is the most important thing we can do. They might have the Champions League a little bit in mind, but with the quality their players have I do not think it affects them."

Not The Same

Real Madrid might have been comfortable in their recent visits to the Basque country, but the travelling side have endured a tough time whenever on the road recently. Ever since the turn of 2013, the capital club have managed only two really impressive away victories: A 5-0 win over Valencia on 20th January and a 3-1 victory over Barcelona in the Copa del Rey on 26th February. Other than that, all their wins have been by a single goal margin.

Jose Mourinho knows that fighting for the league trophy is a lost cause, but with third-placed Atletico Madrid just three points behind and relentlessly on their backs, Los Blancos cannot overlook the league just yet, even if their objective is the Champions League final at Wembley next month.

But the visitors will feel comfortable, having won seven out of their last eight La Liga games, and their recent meetings with Athletic Bilbao mean that they hold the advantage over Bielsa’s side.

Furthermore, Athletic Bilbao have been hit with injuries and suspensions, with key players such as Aritz Aduriz and Oscar de Marcos missing this one through injury. On the other hand, Real Madrid have a few names that are doubtful for this one, but should make the trip up north and Mourinho may well have a full squad at his disposal.
 

Recent form

Athletic Bilbao:
Getafe 1-0 Athletic Bilbao (16/03; La Liga)
Athletic Bilbao 1-0 Granada (01/04; La Liga)
Sevilla 2-1 Athletic Bilbao (08/04; La Liga)

Real Madrid:
Real Madrid 3-0 Galatasaray (03/04; Champions League)
Real Madrid 5-1 Levante (06/04; La Liga)
Galatasaray 3-2 Real Madrid (09/04; Champions League)

Key absences

Athletic Bilbao: Igor Martinez; Ruiz de Galarreta; Inigo Perez; Aritz Aduriz (suspended); Carlos Gurpegui (suspended); Aymeric Laporte (suspended); Oscar de Marcos (suspended)

Real Madrid: Michael Essien (doubt); Cristiano Ronaldo (doubt)

Players to watch

Athletic Bilbao – Ander Herrera: The promising player has seen his light dim in the past few weeks, as he was not able to record and assist or a goal. However, Herrera is one of Spain’s best attacking midfielders and Bielsa will count on him as many of his names sit this one out.

Real Madrid – Mesut Ozil: It is no secret that Real Madrid are unstoppable should their number 10 be firing on all cylinders. Ozil’s form has hardly been spectacular lately, but the German still commands a place ahead of Luka Modric. He will need to find the best side of his game ahead of his club’s encounters with Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League.

Match Prediction

Los Merengues have been far from dominant on the road, but Mourinho’s men are in good form against a team that sit in fourteenth place. It is now when the team must show their true colours ahead of their upcoming Champions League games and they will likely return home with a win. Athletic Bilbao 0-2 Real Madrid.

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