Real Madrid face Athletic Bilbao this Saturday afternoon and will be hoping to close the gap at the top of the table, albeit, with FC Barcelona - who play Celta Vigo at home on Sunday evening - having a game in hand. A recent run of good form will mean that Ernesto Valverde’s men will put some pressure on Los Blancos in an attempt at putting to bed a dreadful record at the Bernabéu against Zidane’s men.
Athletic Bilbao, who currently sit 6th in La Liga, will be hoping to upset Zidane’s short, but flawless record at home. This however, may prove to be a task too burdensome for the team led by recently-turned 35-year-old Aritz Aduriz with 13 league goals to his name, given that the Basques have lost their last 10 outings against the Whites at the Bernabéu. Still, Aduriz will be hopeful that he can notch in a goal or two, as Madrid have merely kept two clean sheets in those ten successive victories against Bilbao.
This is a match in which superstar Cristiano Ronaldo will be hoping to turn around what was a pretty dismal showing in last week’s meager win against Granada where he failed to score, given that Real have won their last six games at home in La Liga while averaging 5.5 goals scored in the process. Moreover, and surely on Valverde’s mind, Madrid have won their last six matches against Bilbao in style, recording at least three goals, and impressively, five goals in four of those victories.
Chances thus suggest that Madrid’s rampant home form, which has seen them score 33 goals in their last six games, will result in an action-packed thriller for the fans present at the Bernabéu this Saturday afternoon. Valverde, aware of the recent dip in form of Madrid’s Portuguese juggernaut, nevertheless stressed the damage that CR7 can produce, stating that it is "[b]est not to say too much for risk of annoying him. Cristiano can score three or four goals each game."
Zidane, mindful of the danger that Bilbao may pose and with Bale, Pepe, and Marcelo (most significantly) out, will be restructuring his starting XI, having already confirmed youngster Mateo Kovačić’s role as a starter. As for Madrid’s recurrent left-back problem, Danilo seems to be the chosen one to fill that gap in Marcelo’s absence should the Brazilian fully recover from an ankle injury of his own. If not, Nacho may start as Madrid’s left-back.
Without Iñaki Williams and the crucial Mikel San José who will miss the showdown against Los Blancos due to suspension, Zidane will be eager to capture all three points against Valverde’s men and maintain Madrid’s record of success against the Basques at the Bernabéu for 11 years.
After an underwhelming display against Granada last weekend, expect Madrid to bounce back and produce a thriller in front of its fans.