Real Madrid v Athletic Bilbao Preview
Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid
MATCH IN A SENTENCE: Several of Real Madrid’s key players will be back in contention for Saturday’s match against an Athletic Bilbao side that has put together a modest run of results in recent weeks.
BREAKDOWN: Cristiano Ronaldo is set to start Saturday’s match against Athletic Bilbao despite an eye injury that left his vision impaired two days after the incident at Levante. The Portugal captain sat out the week’s international schedule and, despite a shiner over his left eye, will line up against the Basque giants at the Bernabeu.
His availability allows Madridistas the world over to breathe a sigh of relief. Ronaldo has hardly missed a match the past two seasons, and Madrid would no doubt be left well undermanned if he was forced to the sidelines for an extended spell. He turned out in at least 54 matches in both 2010-11 and 2011-12 and in the two terms compiled an astonishing 113 goals. He has 19 in 17 matches so far this season.
Striker Karim Benzema, midfielder Mesut Ozil and midfielder Sami Khedira are also in line for recalls to the starting XI, although there’s a good chance Jose Callejon will claim one of the four attacking places.
On the other side of the ball Athletic Bilbao have won each of their past two matches (against Granada and Sevilla) and presently find themselves 12th the standings—the highest they’ve been this season.
Fernando Llorente’s sudden dip in form—no doubt caused at least in part by the forward’s desire to transfer out of the club—obviously has something to do with his side’s struggles in 2012-13, but the uncertainty surrounding manager Marcelo Bielsa has hardly been helpful, either.
The silver lining for Athletic has been the form of 31-year-old striker Aritz Aduriz, who has bagged 10 goals in all competitions in his first season at the club since 2008, when he moved to Mallorca and then on to Valencia.
ESSENTIALS: Madrid are without left-back Marcelo, and striker Gonzalo Higuain in still injured as well.
Athletic playmaker Ander Herrera is suspended after being sent off against Sevilla and Bielsa is also without defender Ikiza and midfielders Ruiz de Galarreta and Inigo Perez.
KEY BATTLE: Iker Muniain will line up to Aduriz’s left in the attack and will try to both get in behind the Madrid right-back (either Sergio Ramos or Alvaro Arbeloa) and cut in front of him. This position is something of a weak spot for Madrid, so Muniain should have a decent amount of space in which to operate.
FORMATIONS: Madrid manager Jose Mourinho will deploy a 4-2-3-1 formation with Ronaldo, Ozil and either Angel Di Maria or Callejon in behind Benzema. Bielsa will go with a flexible 4-3-3 fronted by Markel Susaeta, Aduriz and Muniain.
BETLINE: Real Madrid 1/6; Draw 7/1; Athletic Bilbao 11/1. Madrid won both matches against Athletic last season by a combined score of 7-1.