Eight games, eight wins, and eight clean sheets. Our game may have not been brilliant, but the results obtained last month have been unbeatable. However, January is gone, so it is time to reset the counters and try to make February be as good as last month was.
For a start, we visit Athletic de Bilbao in a league match. The Basque lions, coached by Ernesto Valverde, are having a really good season. They have made their home into a bunker, obtaining nine wins and two draws in eleven games in La Liga, results that launch them to the fourth place. Therefore, it will be really hard to get some profit there, although our neighbours from Atlético de Madrid proved last Wednesday, in Copa del Rey, that San Mamés is not impenetrable, obtaining a brilliant 1-2 win in a really worth-to-watch game.
Speed, intensity, high rhythm and courage will be our rivals' weapons tomorrow, and we need to be ready to face this. Organized in a 4-1-4-1 system, Valverde's men are gifted with the usual fierceness of Athletic's players, but are also equipped with loads of offensive talent to display a really attractive game. Their central midfielder, Iturraspe, is possibly performing at the highest level he has shown in his whole career, and this releases Herrera and Rico to step up and join Aduriz, Muniain and Susaeta in offensive tasks. The right wing connection Iraola-Herrera-Susaeta is specially strong, and will be a big difficulty for us, given that Ronaldo is not used to defending a lot. Di María's work will be needed to help Marcelo not to be outnumbered.
As our coach confirmed yesterday in a press conference, Gareth Bale will not play and either Jesé or Illarra -which would make Di María move to the offensive line- will be his substitute. Furthermore, Varane will sit on the bench with his teammates, since he is fully recovered, and might have the opportunity to play some minutes. But the biggest news is that, given that Barça lost yesterday against Valencia, a win would make us overtake them, so we need to do our best to succeed in this task.