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Real Madrid At Athletic Bilbao, La Liga 2012 Game Preview: Matchball Number One

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MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 29:  Real Madrid CF head coach Jose Mourinho urges on his team during the La Liga match between Real Madrid CF and Sevilla FC at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on April 29, 2012 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 29: Real Madrid CF head coach Jose Mourinho urges on his team during the La Liga match between Real Madrid CF and Sevilla FC at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on April 29, 2012 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
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Real Madrid's first chance of winning la Liga title is finally here. If los blancos win at San Mamés (22:00 CET), the competition will be over, but it could also end before the game kicks off if Málaga manages to win at the Camp Nou. If the Andalusian team draws, Madrid would only need a tie against Bilbao to celebrate the title in one of the most beautiful pitches in Spain.

Athletic is having a pretty good competitive season, so winning in their turf will be a challenge for Mourinho's team, especially since Coach Marcelo Bielsa decided to rest most of his starters in their weekend game against Zaragoza. They are in the Europe League Final and they will also have a chance at the Copa del Rey title later this month against FC Barcelona. Furthermore, San Mamés has been a very hostile environment for Real Madrid due to some political confrontations between the Basque country and Spain's capital, but Real Madrid has performed well in these kind of places like Camp Nou, Sevilla, Valencia or Navarra against Osasuna.

The players should maintain their focus on winning game by game. The race for the title isn't over, and there are also some interesting records that Real Madrid could beat, like the 99-point barrier Guardiola's Barcelona established in the 09-10 campaign. If Mourinho's team wins the three remaining games, they would win La Liga with an historical record of 100 points. Cristiano Ronaldo is also fighting to win the next Ballon D'Or and Golden Boot against Leo Messi, so the Portuguese player will surely give everything he has to win the remaining games against Bilbao, Granada and Mallorca and score as many goals as possible.

Ángel Di María will miss the game due to a sanction, and Nuri Sahin will cover his spot on the list, with Granero or Callejón likely taking his spot on the starting roster. The pirate Granero would give Real Madrid the necessary patience and flow to have control of the ball against a good Bilbao team. But Mourinho also knows that a counterattacking game against Bilbao's poor defensive midfield (Javi Martínez is playing as a center back for Bielsa) could also improve Madrid's chances, and that's why Callejón might have a chance.

Granero has ended the season better than Callejón, but they're two very different players. Mourinho might also want to start Kaká, but the Brazilian has been moved to a more secondary role for April, as has Higuaín. They both seem to be on their way out of the team, and it would be hard for Mourinho to replace Benzema after his two goals against Sevilla. Benzema's game also helps Cristiano Ronaldo, who has been Real Madrid's key player in la Liga.

Bilbao's Ander Herrera will miss the game for the same reason as Di María. Herrera is one of Bilbao's top four players alongside Martínez, Muniain and Fernando Llorente, and Bilbao should not have as many chances to keep the ball under their control without the young midfielder.

Some could argue for Bilbao reserving some of their key players for their two finals against Atlético Madrid and Barcelona. It's true that they don't really have anything to play for in la Liga, but Marcelo Bielsa has confirmed that a San Mamés game against Real Madrid is very important for them. Bilbao's fans would not like Madrid's players celebrating the title in their stadium, so Bielsa might put some effort into this game.

The game will kick off just after Barcelona's match against Málaga, and Bielsa has confirmed that his players would do the pasillo if Málaga surprises the Camp Nou and gets the three points. This situation is not very likely though, so Madrid should clinch the title on their turf. If the players fail, they have two matchballs remaining: one against Granada this upcoming weekend and another against Mallorca in the last game of la Liga.

Whatever happens, Real Madrid fans and the team agree on one thing: the sooner, the better.

With la Liga on the line, now is a great time to check us out on facebook and follow us @managingmadrid on twitter for all the latest Real Madrid news and analysis.