Athletic Club vs Real Madrid: La Liga Preview and Prediction
Zinedine Zidane and Real Madrid continue their march for the 2019-20 La Liga title with a trip to San Mames to take on Athletic Club.
Los Blancos are currently four points ahead of second-placed FC Barcelona. With the Catalan side set to take on Villarreal in a tough fixture at Estadio de la Ceramica, today’s game can be the perfect opportunity for Zidane to gain an unassailable lead at the top.
Athletic Club, however, will be no pushovers. The Basque club is embroiled in a battle for European football next season and Gaizka Gatirano will be looking to aggressively pursue a positive result in this one.
Athletic Club have compiled a decent record since La Liga resumed on June 11. Los Leones have won three, drawn two and lost one in the six games played since resumption. The draws came against Atletico Madrid and SD Eibar while the loss was to FC Barcelona.
Gatirano’s men looked good value last time out, registering a 2-0 win over Valencia at Estadio Mestalla. Veteran Raul Garcia scored a brace to get three valuable points for Los Leones.
Zidane’s Real Madrid have been in stupendous form since the league resumed. The record La Liga champions have won all six games since the restart and have only conceded twice in this duration.
In their last La Liga game, Real Madrid walked out as 1-0 winners over Getafe, another team in the running for European football next season, thanks to a Sergio Ramos penalty.
This run of games against Getafe and Athletic Club were the toughest, on paper, for Los Blancos in this end-of-season-race for the league title. If Zidane is able to get a positive result at San Mames, the title is virtually in Real Madrid’s hands.
Head to Head
While Real Madrid are in great form, Athletic Club isn’t an opponent they would like to face in the current situation.
The Basque side has been a bogey club for Spain’s most successful side. The last six games between the two clubs have seen four draws and two wins for Los Blancos. Real Madrid have scored seven goals and conceded three in these six games with their biggest win being 3-0 at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu in April 2019.
Athletic Club, with their stingy defense, have stopped Real Madrid’s momentum on multiple occasions and Gatirano would love to do the same today.
The reverse fixture between the sides this season at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu was a goalless draw.
Both managers can call upon fully fit sides but one can expect a few rotations.
Garitano could rest Yeray and start Unai Nunez in central defense. Iker Muniain could be benched in favor of Inigo Cordoba and Mikel Vesga is likely to start in central midfield.
There are minor concerns around Raphael Varane’s fitness but Zidane is likely to play him ahead of Eder Militao.
Eden Hazard had bruised his knee recently but has passed a fitness test and should be starting alongside Karim Benzema up front.
Inigo Martinez vs Karim Benzema
With 17 goals and seven assists in the 2019-20 La Liga, Benzema has stepped up to be Real Madrid’s talisman up front.
While Los Blancos have relied on their defense to shut out opponents, Benzema has led the attacking unit and contributed in getting some hard-fought points.
The Frenchman has scored three goals and set up another in Real Madrid’s last six games. His link-up play with Hazard is sure to trouble defenses and Inigo Martinez will be wary of that.
The former Real Sociedad center-back brings in a wealth of experience and leadership. He’ll be in charge of anchoring the defense and keeping them in shape to withstand Real Madrid’s aggression.
Raul Garcia vs Casemiro
Garcia has been Athletic Club’s top goal getter this campaign. The former Atletico Madrid midfielder’s intelligent movement and overall work-rate make him a formidable opponent for any side.
The Spaniard possesses a great shot which can catch goalkeepers by surprise. He also has a tendency to get into scoring positions. Zidane will need Casemiro to maintain his focus while contending with Garcia in this game.
The Brazilian has become a lynchpin for Real Madrid and is definitely one of the best in the world at his position. While Garcia poses a threat, Casemiro is likely to keep him in his pocket in this game.
Athletic Club have been party-poopers for Real Madrid and both Los Leones and Barca fans would be hoping they live up to that role again.
Real Madrid’s form and quality, however, puts the cards in their hand.
While Athletic Club will give a tough fight to Zidane’s men, I see Real Madrid getting the three points in this one. The hosts should find the net but Benzema and Hazard will be able to carve out attacking opportunities to get the win for Real Madrid.
Predicted scoreline: Athletic Club 1-2 Real Madrid