NIVEA MEN Football Insight Real Madrid vs Athletic Club
Can Los Merengues continue their return to form against the Basque heavyweights on Tuesday?
What a difference a week can make!
Before their La Liga showdown against Sevilla, Real Madrid appeared to be in the midst of a crisis, having won just one of their previous five fixtures in all competitions.
It wasn’t pretty, but they eventually took all three points against Sevilla—thanks to Yassine Bounou’s own goal—and then proceeded to overcome Borussia Monchangladbach in the biggest match of their season.
Failure to progress to the Champions League knockout stages would have been unthinkable for Zinedine Zidane’s side—not least considering their immense pedigree in the competition—yet they ultimately progressed in style.
They had reason to be fearful heading into an away tie against the German side, with their vulnerabilities—not least in the pair of defeats against Shakhtar Donetsk—being laid bare in the UCL already this season.
Ultimately, Real breezed into the knockouts, with Karim Benzema netting a first-half double to silence Gladbach—who ultimately join them in the Round of 16.
As if that wasn’t enough to confirm a positive week, Real then squared off against their city rivals Atletico in La Liga action on Saturday.
Again they benefited from a goalkeeper error—Jan Oblak putting the ball into his own net in the 63rd minute after failing to deal with a powerful Dani Carvajal effort—but the tone was set with Casemiro’s first-half opener, and Real ultimately ran out 2-0 winners yet again.
It drew the line under an exceptional week, as Real ultimately topped their UCL group and moved to within three points of their city rivals with the defeat over erstwhile league leaders Atletico.
Real Sociedad’s draw at home against Eibar on Sunday afternoon takes them back to top spot in the table, but they are beginning to lose steam after a magnificent start to the campaign—with three draws in their last three games—and Real could move level on points with The Royal if they defeat their Basque rivals Athletic on Tuesday evening.
It’s yet another tough assignment; Bilbao are notoriously tricky customers, and managed to hold Valencia to a 2-2 draw away from home on Saturday as they moved up to 14 points after 12 games.
It’s not been an excellent start to the season, but Athletic have quality in the likes of Inaki Williams, Alex Berenguer and Ander Capa, and can provide tough resistance for Los Blancos .
There have been defensive failings though, with Unai Simon responsible on Saturday to allow a 2-1 lead to slip away from them as Manu Vallejo scored the equaliser.
Zidane will be particularly delighted with the return to fitness of Sergio Ramos—he was again solid in the heart of the defence alongside Raphael Varane against Atletico—while Toni Kroos was arguably Real’s star man, thriving in the heart of the park alongside goalscorer Casemiro.
Athletic’s recent record against Real hasn’t been great; their 1-0 victory at San Mames in the 2014-15 season was the only triumph they’ve enjoyed against the domestic heavyweights in the last 10 years, with Los Merengues winning 14 of the last 20 meetings between the pair.
There have been four draws in the last six matches between them, however, which may give the Basques some hope that they can at least end Real’s three-game winning streak.
Last term, they proved their resilience by holding Real 0-0 at the Estadio Alfredo di Stefano, and would love a repeat on Tuesday.
Bilbao can also take encouragement from Real’s injury list; Ramos and Carvajal are back, but Zidane is still without forwards Eden Hazard, Martin Odegaard, Luka Jovic and Mariano.
Will Los Blancos be fatigued following their exertions over the previous week, or can Zizou rotate his offensive options to ensure everyone remains fresh?
Athletic have no such fitness concerns—Peru Nolaskoain is back in contention—although they’ll have to find a way to negate the threat of Benzema, who was so lethal against Gladbach in Real’s last midweek assignment.