Following a 4-0 thumping of Tottenham Hotspur in the Champions League midweek, Real Madrid will face a feisty Athletic Bilbao side this weekend. The Spanish Primera title race may be all but over, with Los Blancos now 8 points adrift of Barcelona, but Jose Mourinho has urged his players to end the season strongly. Efforts in the Spanish capital are now surely concentrated on the Champions League, especially with a potential semi-final encounter with Barcelona looming. On the other hand, Athletic Bilbao will continue to target a Europa League finish as their realistic objective this season.
Real Madrid Team News: Karim Benzema, the in-form striker, picked up a thigh injury during international duty with France against Croatia nearly two weeks ago, and has thus far missed Madrid’s agonising 1-0 loss to Sporting Gijon last week, as well as their midweek victory over Tottenham Hotspur. While Benzema was expected to return to action against Athletic on Saturday, Mourinho has allowed him more time to recover. Also in the injury spotlight are midfielders Fernando Gago, Pedro Leon and Sami Khedira, while Los Blancos’ fans can revel in the fact that Kaka and Gonzalo Higuain have been included in the squad. Real Madrid are also involved in several transfer rumours, with highly-rated Internacional youngster Leandro Damiao a possible alternative to Emmanuel Adebayor, who is expected to return to Manchester City in the summer.
The probable Real Madrid starting lineup consists of:
Casillas; Ramos, Pepe, Carvalho, Arbeloa; Khedira, Alonso; Ronaldo, Oezil, Di Maria; Adebayor
Athletic Bilbao Team News: With a place in the Europa League nearly sealed, Atheltic Bilbao’s season thus far has been successful. While they are unlikely to catch fourth placed Villareal who are nine points clear of them, they will surely play an attacking game from the whistle in tonight’s encounter. Fernando Llorente, the fifth highest scorer in La Liga this season, is set to be a key player in Bilbao’s squad, with the striker a potential game-changer.
The probable Athletic Bilbao starting lineup consists of:
Iraizoz; Iraola, San Jose, Ekiza, Castillo; Lopez, Martinez, Orbaiz, Gabilondo; Llorente, Toquero
Previous Encounter: Real Madrid 5-1 Atheltic Bilbao (November 20, 2010)
By Alexander Novo