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La Liga Preview: Another Big Test for Los Blancos


La Liga Preview: Another Big Test for Los Blancos

Athletic Bilbao vs Real Madrid

Julen Lopetegui takes Real Madrid to the San Mames Stadium where his team’s 100 percent record will get a tough examination from Athletic Bilbao.

The hosts may sit in mid-table with four points from two games, but—with a proud history and a passionate set of fans—they are never ready to give points away to any visitor without a fight. Sure, Los Blancos have won three from three, but the Bilbao side is yet unbeaten, albeit from two games.

At the beginning of the La Liga season, all the talk was around how Real Madrid could possibly cope without their talisman, Cristiano Ronaldo. However, La Liga 2018 betting odds on the title returning to the Bernabeu have skyrocketed after the three wins.

Barcelona are still clear favourites to win the league, but the longer Los Blancos can continue a winning run, the more their supporters will start to believe.

Talking Points

Can Real Madrid really sustain a challenge at the top?

It’s early days but on the evidence I’ve seen so far, I’d say ‘yes’. Lopetegui’s men are just behind Barca on goal difference and have been pretty impressive up front without Cristiano.

Karim Benzema was on target twice in a 1-4 win away to Girona, an easy victory in a game which could have been tricky. That’s four league goals for the striker who former boss, Zinedine Zidane, described as someone important for the balance of Los Blancos. As a France international, he may now be in the shadow of Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann, but in La Liga, he is still a force to be reckoned with.

And so is Gareth Bale, who has already bagged three goals in the league. Then you can look at the players representing Spain last week. Marco Asensio, Sergio Ramos and Isco were all on target for their country in its 6-0 UEFA Nations League destruction of Croatia.

Midfield ace Luka Modric was on the wrong end of that drubbing of course, but he showed in the World Cup just what a special talent he is as he inspired Croatia to an incredible run to the final.

Real Madrid have more than enough firepower.

How can Athletic Bilbao keep Los Blancos at bay?

Well, the home fans will pack into the 53,000-capacity and they could be the twelfth man Bilbao desperately need to get a result.

New head coach Eduardo Berizzo has his work cut out on Sunday, but the Argentine is made of stern stuff. His stay in his previous job at Sevilla was cut short, having been appointed at the start of last season. He lasted until November, shortly after he had successful prostate cancer surgery, but the club’s poor form signalled the end of his time in Seville.

Los Leones’ La Liga 2018 results so far have yielded four points, but it should have been six as they conceded a two-goal lead to new boys Huesca last time out in the league.

Following the world-record transfer of goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga to Chelsea, Bilbao have had to reboot its backline. It was new Real Madrid keeper Thibaut Courtois’ move from Stamford Bridge which prompted that transfer, and now Unai Simon has taken Kepa’s place between the sticks at Bilbao.

He’ll need plenty of protection from his defence and centre backs Yeray Alvarez and Peru Nolaskoain will be busy. The 23-year-old Yeray is a Spain international at Under-21 level and has leadership qualities, having captained Athletic Bilbao’s Under-23s. Nolaskolain also provides an attacking threat, scoring in the win over Leganes.

Up front, a hamstring injury kept leading striker Aritz Aduriz out of the game against Huesca when Inaki Williams played up front on his own, so we’ll await the team news with interest.

History

As one of the three founding members of the Primera Division, Athletic Bilbao have never been relegated since its inception in 1929. They have won La Liga eight times, as well as the Copa del Rey a massive 23 times, second only to Barcelona—though it’s been a while. The team’s last success was a league and cup double in 1984.

This is a proud club, and Los Blancos won’t need to remind their hosts of their own recent success, particularly in Europe!

Three wins from three games, with ten goals and two conceded, is a near perfect start for Real Madrid. Meanwhile, Athletic Bilbao have struggled to put away the league’s two minnows with any great ease, scraping past Leganes and then drawing 2-2 with new boys Huesca.

The head-to-heads put Los Blancos firmly in charge, with 33 wins to 11 and eight draws.

But last season, both games were draws: 1-1 at the Bernabeu and 0-0 in Bilbao.

Betting Tip

Under 3.25 @ 1.84

Both of Athletic Bilbao’s games have yielded over 2.5 goals, as have two of Real’s three games; however, I think this will be a tighter affair. Berizzo will have his defence well marshalled, and they will be mindful of their slip-up against Huesca.

Any result for the home side will be seen as a great success in Bilbao as the odds are 1.59 for an away win here at SBOBET, 5.60 a home win and 3.80 the draw.

And a first-half stalemate at 2.33 could be worth a look for an alternative.

Disclaimer: Odds are correct at time of publish.

 

 


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