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November 21, 2010 2:30 AM IST
Estadio Santiago Bernabéu — Madrid
Referee:‬ Alberto Undiano‎
Attendance:‬ 75000‎

La Liga Preview: Real Madrid - Athletic Bilbao

Nine days before El Clasico, los Blancos will try to maintain their advantage over Barcelona by defeating los Leones...

By Robin Bairner

Sami Khedira, Gonzalo Higuain, Sporting Gijon, Real Madrid (Getty Images)
No Let-Up

Though there are still three games to be played before Real Madrid meet Barcelona, already the focus is starting to fall upon El Clasico. Mesut Oezil started the war of words last week, but los Blancos cannot allow their focus to stray before meeting a very capable and very hungry Athletic Bilbao side.

Jose Mourinho’s side are buoyant at present. After a difficult start to the campaign in front of goal, they’ve now recorded six successive wins in La Primera Division and have already qualified for the last 16 of the Champions League. But seasons are not determined successful on the basis of a strong autumn; this must simply be the foundation for greater things.

Last weekend, the Portuguese coach’s verbal sparring with Sporting de Gijon head coach Manuel Preciado rather overshadowed his side’s narrow 1-0 success at El Molinon. Madrid were largely dominant in the encounter but relied on the predatory instincts of Gonzalo Higuain to tap in after Karim Benzema’s initial header had been saved.

At the Bernabeu, Mourinho, who has a remarkable personal record of having gone over 140 league matches unbeaten at home for his various clubs, has seen his Merengues become a winning machine. In the eight encounters his side have played at the Casa Blanca, they have yet to slip, and the ultra-competitive coach will be desperate that there is no relaxing before Saturday’s awkward fixture.

Basque Pride

Every team that travels to the Bernabeu wants to be the one to upset Real Madrid, but Athletic Bilbao are one of those units most desperate to claim three points at the historic venue. Spanish history has dictated that the proud Basque outfit are especially keen to upset their Castilian opponents.

Los Leones’ record in La Liga this season is rather modest, though it has been good enough to lift them into the top half of the table. From their opening 11 fixtures, they’ve picked up five wins and five defeats, drawing only once. There’s been no shortage of goals either, having not been shut out all season to date.

Athletic managed only one tally in last weekend’s encounter against Almeria, though that proved to be enough in a game in which they would finish with only nine players, Koikili and Carlos Gurpegui dismissed. Inevitably Fernando Llorente was the scorer, though coach Joaquin Caparros had praise for his team as a whole after the fixture.

“You have to tip your hat to the public and also the efforts of the players, who have given everything,” he said. “We have played many minutes with two less players and have not gotten a single goal. The important thing is the three points and the unity of the group. We have faced opposition from the referee but the players tripled their efforts.”

Such toil will be required if los Leones are to win against the odds, having lost 5-1 at this venue last term.


Real Madrid

There have been no reports of fresh injury problems in the Real Madrid camp, though they still have a number of issues. Kaka is to travel to Brazil to get a report on his knee, while Fernando Gago won’t be back in the Spanish capital to continue his recovery until next week. Ezequiel Garay is the other significant injury worry in Jose Mourinho’s squad.


Los Leones’ main problems going into the weekend are disciplinary. Koikili and Carlos Gurpegui are both suspended after red cards last weekend, while Xabier Castillo will also be absent due to a ban.

Gaizka Toquero and Amorebieta could both be declared fit before Saturday, while Aitor Ocio and Ibai Gomez are both sidelined by physical complaints.

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Team News
Available Squads
1Iker CasillasGoalkeeper
4Sergio RamosDefender
2Ricardo CarvalhoDefender
6Sami KhediraMidfielder
14Xabi AlonsoMidfielder
11Mesut ÖzilMidfielder
22Ángel Di MaríaMidfielder
7Cristiano RonaldoStriker
9Gonzalo HiguaínStriker
25Jerzy DudekGoalkeeper
33Raúl Albiol Defender
12Pedro LeónMidfielder
6Lassana DiarraMidfielder
9Karim BenzemaStriker
25Esteban GraneroMidfielder
15Andoni IraolaDefender
6Mikel San José DomínguezDefender
11Igor GabilondoMidfielder
8Javi MartínezMidfielder
14Fernando Llorente Striker
13Raúl Fernández MateosGoalkeeper
3Íñigo PérezMidfielder
-David LópezMidfielder
Players to Watch
Gonzalo Higuaín
Gonzalo Higuaín
Position: Striker
Squad Number: 9
Games Goals YC RC
0 0 0 0
Fernando Llorente
Fernando Llorente
Position: Striker
Squad Number: 14
Games Goals YC RC
0 0 0 0
Probable Lineups
Iker Casillas 1
Sergio Ramos 4
Pepe 3
Ricardo Carvalho 2
Marcelo 12
Sami Khedira 6
Xabi Alonso 14
Mesut Özil 11
Ángel Di María 22
Cristiano Ronaldo 7
Gonzalo Higuaín 9
Iraizoz 1
Andoni Iraola 15
Ustaritz 15
Mikel San José Domínguez 6
Amorebieta 35
Igor Gabilondo 11
Susaeta 14
Orbaiz 0
Javi Martínez 8
Muniain 19
Fernando Llorente 14
Editor's Prediction
Bilbao 0
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Diego Costa Diego Costa
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27 5
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Karim Benzema Karim Benzema
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17 0
Alexis Sánchez Alexis Sánchez
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