Athletic Bilbao - Real Madrid - Saturday 17.00 GMT
La Liga leaders Real Madrid travel to the Basque country with doubts about their resilience having resurfaced in last weekend’s 1-1 home draw with Villarreal.
Carlo Ancelotti’s side had seemed to have overcome their dodgy start to 2015, but again struggled to impose themselves, especially in midfield. The Italian coach even found himself making a defensive substitution late on to secure the point against the impressive Villarreal side.
This reminded us that Madrid have this term eased passed ‘smaller’ teams, but have dropped 11 points in games against other teams in the top six [Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Valencia, Sevilla and Villarreal]. A team top-heavy with galactico attackers can lack the numbers in central areas to compete against other decent sides, especially with midfielders Luka Modric, Sami Khedira and James Rodriguez all not yet back from injury. Modric and Khedira are both back training, but look unlikely to be risked yet.
Going to San Mames counts as a similar tough test. Athletic had a poor start to this season, and hugely disappointing Champions League group campaign. However Ernesto Valverde’s side have bounced back impressively, and will be on a high after securing a Copa del Rey final place with Wednesday’s 2-0 semi-final second leg win at in-form Espanyol.
Key to Athletic’s resurgence has been the form of centre-forward Aritz Aduriz, who after his opener at Espanyol has now scored 17 of his team’s 42 goals in all competitions this season. Los Leones coach Ernesto Valverde has a concern in defensive midfield, where Ander Iturraspe is injured, and usual replacement Mikel San Jose suspended, so veteran Carlos Gurpegui could return to the position he spent most of his career before dropping back to defence.
A repeat of last year’s tight encounter - when Ronaldo was sent off in a 1-1 draw - looks likely. Although Ancelotti’s team might just sneak it in the end.
Predicted result: Athletic Bilbao 1-2 Real Madrid at 8.50
Best bet: Draw in market which starts 1-0 to Athletic at 3.75 [i.e. a one goal win for Madrid]