Thursday, September 20

La Liga

Preview: Athletic Bilbao vs. Real Madrid - prediction, team news, lineups

Sports Mole brings you team news, predicted lineups and a full match preview of Real Madrid's trip to Athletic Bilbao in La Liga.

Real Madrid will attempt to make it four wins from their four matches at the start of the 2018-19 La Liga campaign when they travel to Athletic Bilbao on Saturday night.

Los Blancos have started the new season with wins over Getafe, Girona and Leganes, and will be looking to move onto 12 points in Spain's top flight ahead of their Champions League group opener with Roma on September 19.

Athletic Bilbao

Last season's 16th-placed finish in La Liga proved to be Bilbao's worst campaign for 11 years. Indeed, after finishes of fourth, seventh, fifth and seven between 2013 and 2017, a disappointing season saw the Basque outfit win just 10 of their 38 league matches.

Jose Angel Ziganda left his position as head coach in May, and Eduardo Berizzo is now in charge of first-team affairs at Bilbao.

The Basque outfit opened their La Liga season with a 2-1 home win over Leganes on August 20, before sharing the points with newly-promoted Huesca at San Mames on August 27.

Bilbao were due to face Rayo Vallecano in Madrid at the start of the month, but the fixture was postponed amid concerns over the safety of the Vallecas Stadium, with the ground said to be in a dangerous state.

A break of almost three weeks without a match is not exactly ideal, and they will welcome a Real Madrid side that has been impressive in the early weeks of the campaign.

The two league fixtures between Bilbao and Real Madrid finished level last season, but the Basque outfit have not overcome Los Blancos in Spain's top flight since March 2015, with the capital outfit winning four of their last six meetings.

Bilbao are currently staring at a daunting fixture list as they face Real Betis, Villarreal and Barcelona in their three matches after this one, and the rest of September could give a good indication of what type of season can be expected.

Recent form: WD

Real Madrid

Three matches, three wins, 10 goals scored and just two conceded. That is how Madrid have performed in the early weeks of the 2018-19 campaign, with the capital giants not yet missing Cristiano Ronaldo.

Ronaldo put up freak numbers during his exceptional career at Madrid, but both have now moved on, and it has been a smooth transition under new head coach Julen Lopetegui thus far.

A 4-2 defeat to Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup last month led to panic amongst the supporters, but Los Blancos opened their 2018-19 La Liga campaign with a 2-0 win over Getafe on August 19.

Lopetegui's side were more professional than brilliant against Getafe, but they have scored eight times in their last two La Liga matches, hitting four past Girona on August 26 before winning 4-1 at home to Leganes last time out.

Gareth Bale has three La Liga goals this season, while Karim Benzema - criticised for long periods of last season - has netted four times in Spain's top flight thus far, with the pair flourishing without Ronaldo.

It is still very early days in the campaign, but Marco Asensio's exceptional performance for Spain on Tuesday night suggests that the 22-year-old is ready to play a key role alongside the likes of Isco, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric this term.

Los Blancos dropped points in 16 of their 38 La Liga matches last season as they finished down in third spot, some 17 points off the champions Barcelona, who also have a 100% record in the early stages of the 2018-19 campaign.

The capital giants certainly look capable of putting up a stronger challenge this season, however, and will be keen to put another three points on the board ahead of their Champions League group opener against Roma on September 19.

Recent form: WWW

Team News

Goalkeeper Iago Herrerin and experienced forward Aritz Aduriz are both expected to miss out for the home side this weekend.

As a result, Unai Simon will keep his spot between the sticks, with Inaki Williams starting at centre-forward.

Iker Muniain is already off the mark in terms of goals this season and will start, while Markel Susaeta and Inigo Cordoba should both keep their positions in the Bilbao XI.

As for Real Madrid, summer arrival Alvaro Odriozola is fit following an injury, but the Spaniard is expected to be named on the bench as Dani Carvajal continues at right-back.

Thibaut Courtois is again expected to be named between the sticks, while Isco could again be the player to miss out as Asensio joins Benzema and Bale in the final third, with Modric, Kroos and Casemiro sitting as the midfield three.

Athletic Bilbao possible starting lineup:
Simon; De Marcos, Yeray, Inigo Martinez, Yuri; Raul Garcia, Dani Garcia; Cordoba, Muniain, Susaeta; Williams

Real Madrid possible starting lineup:
Courtois; Carvajal, Varane, Ramos, Marcelo; Casemiro, Kroos, Modric; Asensio, Benzema, Bale

Head To Head

As mentioned, both La Liga matches between the two teams finished level last season. Indeed, the pair played out a goalless draw at San Mames in December before a 1-1 draw occurred at the Bernabeu in April.

Real Madrid's last away success to Bilbao was a 2-1 victory in March 2017, and Bilbao have not actually beaten their opponents this weekend in Spain's top flight since March 2015, which is a run of six games without a win.

We say: Athletic Bilbao 0-2 Real Madrid

The majority of Bilbao's first-team squad has not played a competitive match for almost three weeks, which could work against them at this stage of the season.

Real Madrid have been extremely impressive in the post-Ronaldo era, and we expect Lopetegui's side to move onto 12 points in Spain's top flight this weekend with a two-goal success.

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