Real Madrid vs Athletic Bilbao: Match Preview

Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno

Los Blancos look to remain perfect through the season's first three matches. Athletic Bilbao, also on six points through two matches, makes the trip south to the capital city for Sunday's noon (CET) kickoff.

Despite the Gareth Bale transfer circus apparently reaching its zenith, Real Madrid must focus its attention on Athletic Bilbao. It's still early days, but strong starts are at a premium for Real Madrid in the La Liga marathon. At least one of the two squads will drop points for the first time tomorrow. Simply put, Real Madrid must avoid being the team to drop them.

Lucas scouted out the Basque opposition here. Click there for an extensive look at the now Llorente-less Bilbao.

As for Madrid, Carlo Ancelotti cleared up a few things on how Los Blancos might line up tomorrow. In his pre-match press conference, he confirmed that Diego López will continue between the posts. He did mention, however, that Iker Casillas will be involved this season in some capacity. Whether that's a split between the two keepers depending on the type of competition, he wasn't quite sure as of yet. Ancelotti said that he will soon make a decision that will provide some opportunity for Casillas to feature.

Carlo Ancelotti's call-up is as follows:

Goalkeepers: Casillas, Diego López, Tomás Mejías.
Defenders: Arbeloa, Carvajal, Pepe, Ramos, Nacho, Marcelo.
Midfielders: Di María, Khedira, Modric, Casemiro, Illarra, Isco, Özil.
Forwards: Cristiano Ronaldo, Benzema, Morata, Jesé.

In defence, don't look for too much change from what we've seen so far this season. Arbeloa or Carvajal to line up on Iker Muniain's side? Ancelotti is hopeful that Raphaël Varane can return to training after the international break, as the Frenchman is still recovering from knee surgery.

Though Luka Modric and Sami Khedira were unavailable at midweek for the Teresa Herrera friendly, they will be at Ancelotti's disposal on Sunday. Asier Illarramendi is finally back in the squad. The manager said that he is ready to play, although Casemiro has had a good showing and seems to be gaining the manager's trust. Maybe a late substitution for Illarra to get a few minutes under his belt is possible if things go according to plan. Illarra's return should be a welcomed one given that Xabi Alonso will remained sidelined for several months.

As usual, Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema will be counted upon to capitalize on the chances created behind them. Ancelotti seems patient and not too worried about the his frontline players not having set the world on fire so far this season.

We've lacked rhythm and consistency in attack because it's still early in the season. In Granada, we were much better in defence.

So far, Real Madrid has been able to score just enough to hold on to six possible points, and that's the most important thing. Look for the squad to continue finding its feet and adjusting to each other. It's vitally important for Real Madrid to not drop points early while it attempts to find its identity in order to stay in the hunt for a league title.

It's become obvious that Fábio Coentrão is not in the plans and will be moving on, as he was left off the squad list. Kaká was also left off following his public announcement of his intent to leave Madrid. Ancelotti said the club will look for a way to sell the Brazilian in the next few days.

How do you want to see Real Madrid line up tomorrow?

Real Madrid vs Athletic Bilbao: Sunday, September 1st at 12:00 pm CET/ 6:00 am EST/ 3:00 am PST

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