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La Liga 2015, Athletic Club de Bilbao - Real Madrid: Match preview

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Los Blancos face a crucial game against a rival that comes in great shape after making it to the Copa del Rey final.

Denis Doyle/Getty Images

After losing two points against Villarreal last Sunday, Los Blancos have gone through a really tough week in which all conversations regarding Real Madrid ended up circling around the so-called crisis they are currently in. However, Ancelotti's men are on top of the league table and have a chance to prove they are still the main candidates to win the league by conquering one of the most complicated venues in Spanish football: Bilbao's New San Mamés.

While it is true that the Basque Lions are not doing a good job in La Liga this season, they get to this game full of confidence after having confirmed their qualification to the Copa del Rey final. A crowded San Mamés will be extremely supportive for its players and will be, for sure, extremely noisy every time Los Blancos get a hold of the ball, given how terribly Athletic fans hate all things Real Madrid. It is quite unlikely that Valverde will rotate his men for this game, and so Real Madrid will need to be careful with De Marcos, Susaeta, Muniain and, above all, their terrific striker Aritz Aduriz.

Ancelotti, however, has the right tools to face the intense pressure and high rhythm Valverde will try to impose. Although Real Madrid has a Champions League on Saturday, no rotations are expected, and so the midfield trio formed by Toni Kroos, Lucas Silva and Isco Alarcón will be in charge of dictating the right tempo to diminish Athletic's onslaughts. Reports in As and Marca indicate that perhaps Illarramendi might have a chance, but that does not really sound much like something Ancelotti would do. Modric will not be available, so the Italian coach will need to choose one player from Khedira, Illarramendi and Lucas Silva to play alongside Kroos and Isco.

And this will be our strikers' duty, who will need to increase their accuracy after a first couple of disappointing months in 2015. There is, for sure, going to be free space behind Athletic's pressure line for them to run, but they will need to convert their chances in contrast with the Villarreal game last week. Cristiano Ronaldo, who seems to be getting in shape once again after his two-game ban in La Liga, will have to remain calm in a game where all the booing and whistling will be directed to him, and avoid being sent out, just like he was last season.