Match Preview: Athletic Club vs Real Madrid – 2021/22

By: Mohammed Sahel

A difficult trip to Bilbao lies ahead of Real Madrid. They cruised through what most thought was the most crucial stretch of their season, but this past week has proven to be quite challenging indeed. Cádiz’s well earned point against a tiring and wasteful Madrid was an example of how quickly things can take a turn for the worse. 

With games being called off left, right and centre over in the Premier League, LaLiga is yet to cancel any fixtures. Even with a Covid outbreak at Valdebebas, there seems to be no sign that would point towards the possible cancellation/postponement of tonight’s game.

What to Expect: 

Marcelino’s Bilbao are a team still in a state of adrenaline rush from the events of last week’s late win against Betis. Prior to that, however, their form was worrying to say the least with their last victory dating back to late October. As much as their football has been uninspiring, Madrid’s opponents possess immense quality. Quality that Marcelino has so far not been able to take advantage. 

Bilbao, along with Getafe, hold a considerable physical advantage over pretty much every other team in the league. Marcelino’s coaching methods have taught them to be far more proactive and resilient without the ball. Compared to Garitzka Garitano’s more simplistic view of pressing, keeping possession and counter-attacking serves as more purposeful and fitting for a growing club like Bilbao. 

Athletic Club’s football might not always reflect Marcelino’s project and where he stands with the club. He’s failed to bring the best out of talent like Iñaki and Mikel Vesga. Veteran Raúl García is a regular in attack but at 35 he doesn’t have the same durability as before. Bilbao are naturally solid in defence because they protect the ball and chase it back as a unit, moving from back to front in almost a rhythmic cycle. 

Expect a lot of attacks down the right. Bilbao like maintaining possession high in the opposition’s half once their defence clears its lines. The squad must’ve been subject to some rigorous defensive set-piece training ahead of this one, because they are a team that shows time and again just how efficient they are from all sorts of dead ball situations. Playing in front of goal, finishing is perhaps their one evident weakness. 

Regardless of their recent worries, Bilbao are historically a side that likes sucking the life out of “the big three”. Beating the Basque team will undoubtedly prove to be a tough task.

Team News: 

Stark contrast to what the situation was prior to the Madrid Derby. Carlo Ancelotti can now field an entire eleven of unavailable players. But such is the nature of proceedings during a post pandemic world, it is unpredictable. 

David Alaba and Isco were the latest to test positive yesterday, joining Luka Modrić, Gareth Bale, Marco Asensio, Rodrygo, Marcelo and Andriy Lunin on the list of players in isolation. Dani Carvajal and Ceballos are out with muscle overloads and Casemiro is suspended. 

Ancelotti still lacks options on the right-wing, it is expected that Federico Valverde plays on the right side again with Eden Hazard supporting Karim Benzema. But with Ancelotti contemplating ditching the 4-3-3 altogether, it’s not so easy to predict what the Italian coach has in mind for tonight’s game.


Expected Line-ups: 

Real Madrid: 

Courtois 

Vázquez — Militão — Nacho — Mendy 

Valverde — Kroos — Camavinga

Hazard 

Benzema — Vini Jr. 

Athletic Club: 

Agirrezabalaga 

Lekue — Álvarez — Núñez — Balenziaga 

Niko — Vencedor — García — Muniain 

Iñaki — Raúl Garcia 

Player to Watch: 

Real Madrid: Eden Hazard. Three months from his last start, Eden was handed the chance at the Bernabéu against Cadiz and his short second-half cameo did not disappoint. The Belgian struggled to cope with the pace of the game in the first 45, and often found himself with his back towards goal, or crowded amongst yellow shirts but he eventually found his way around that. If he can manage to switch positions with Vinícius fluently and link-up with Benzema, Real Madrid are in for a treat.

Athletic Club: Niko Williams. Surprised? surely. Iñaki’s 19-year old brother is an exciting footballer. Sure, Bilbao do have other better, more experienced players. Muniain is the pumping heart of their midfield, Raúl García is a pressing machine and Iñaki does the running on the break. Niko Williams, however, is unique, and has the flair as well as the composure of a solid winger. 

Prediction:

Athletic Club 0-1 Real Madrid. 

Real Madrid will likely have to grind this one out. Bilbao’s form (pre-Betis) has been woeful but Ancelotti’s men are starting to look weary with the Covid outbreak and all the discontinuity. This is Los Blancos’ final game before the end of the year. It only makes sense that the team end it on a high note. Hala Madrid!

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