The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain, but try telling that to the Levante groundsman. On a waterlogged pitch reminiscent of English Sunday league conditions, Real Madrid displayed character to win in a stadium where José Mourinho had previously failed.
Both teams issued statements this week defending their players behaviour upon the final whistle. With Pepe dancing in front of the home team's dressing room, Sergio Ballesteros reportedly struck the Portuguese wind-up merchant. "I’ve never assaulted anybody in my life and even less Pepe. I swear it. The only thing I did was enter the dressing room to see how Cristiano Ronaldo was," said Ballesteros regarding the matter, before kind of admitting a coming together: "There was a fracas for a reason and it didn’t happen by chance. You only have to look at what happened." Police were called to the Ciutat de Valencia.
It was less eventful in Bilbao for a change, though no one was complaining. Except Marcelo Bielsa, of course. He was sent to the stands after protesting a contentious decision in his team’s victory over Sevilla, though he did apologise to referee Alejandro Hernandez after the match: "There is no reason to protest as I did," he told the press: "I want to apologise to the referee and his assistants."
The Real magic sponge has been working overtime as Sami Khedira, Karim Benzema and Fábio Coentrão were all back in training this week. Ronaldo should play, despite a collision with David Navarro's elbow in the deep end. Mesut Özil is a doubt due to an ankle injury. For Athletic, Ander Herrera misses the game following his second red card in three weeks, as does Óscar De Marcos because of a fifth yellow of the season. Iñigo Pérez remains doubtful. Aritz Aduriz has netted 50% of their league goals this season, and is at 15.00 for the opener.
Madrid currently top the form chart, matching Barcelona in their last six La Liga matches. They have won four on the bounce domestically. It's been a torrid season for Athletic: players have inevitably tired from Bielsa's intense methods, while the loss of Javi Martínez to Bayern Munich and Fernando Llorente's public desire to leave haven't helped. They have won their last two in the league, though.
Real Madrid have won 15 of their last 16 matches against Athletic Bilbao in all competitions. Three of the last four meetings between the sides at the Santiago Bernabéu have seen an Athletic player dismissed. A red card this weekend can be backed at 2.70.
Álvaro Morata scored with his first touch off the bench to seal the win versus Levante - his first goal for Madrid and the team's 250th during Mourinho's tenure. After all the criticism of not using youth players, the press saw this as further proof that Mourinho should have trusted in him earlier. José obviously disagreed: "I was the one that brought him into the first team squad. Who called him up for pre-season with the first team, three times? Me. Who stopped him leaving? Me. Who gave him a first-team contract? Me." You can get odds of 2.30 on Morata to add more fuel to the fire by scoring.
Expect goals in an open match that has the potential to be end-to-end. Real Madrid should take advantage of Athletic's ever-changing defence at 1.17 for the win. Ronaldo, who played up to the cliche that 'he could score with his eyes shut' by making do with one eye last week, is 2.80 to open the scoring, presumably using both retinas this time.
Madrid scored at least three goals in eight of the last nine meetings between the sides. Over 2.5 goals is 1.26. Athletic have scored and conceded in their last four league matches, and both teams to score is at 1.62.
Score prediction: Real Madrid 3-2 Athletic Bilbao (20.00)