Rafael Benitez will look to continue his impressive start to life at Real Madrid when they face the tough trip to Athletic Bilbao in La Liga.
While some questioned Benitez’s appointment at Santiago Bernabeu, he has enjoyed one of the best starts at the club in recent years, matching the records of Carlo Ancelotti and Jose Mourinho
Madrid have won three and drawn one of Benitez’s opening four league matches in charge and are yet to concede a goal, a record only bettered in recent times by Manuel Pellegrini’s four wins from four at the start of 2009-10.
A trip to San Mames is a real test, though, with Athletic having won the corresponding fixture 1-0 last season.
Benitez faces an anxious wait on the fitness of Sergio Ramos (shoulder) ahead of Wednesday’s match after the defender trained alone on Monday, while Gareth Bale (calf), James Rodriguez (thigh) and Danilo (foot) are definitely out.
Ramos missed the 1-0 win over Granada at the weekend with the injury, so Benitez could partner Pepe with Raphael Varane for a second successive outing.
There is better news for the hosts, though, with the return of Ander Iturraspe following a hamstring injury that has kept him sidelined since July.
Iturraspe took part in training ahead of Madrid’s visit and hopes to be a part of what he knows will be a tough encounter.
“I felt good during training, I was fine, I am available. We have a very important game. We need to win,” he said.
“They have a team at superlative level, there are not many differences from playing them now or later [in the season].
“We have to play our game, we know we can beat them but it is very complicated.
“When it comes to playing Madrid it is always a big party, the atmosphere is always very good and will be better.”
Athletic come into the match on a patchy run of form in the league with just one win from their opening four matches – against Getafe – although they have enjoyed more success in the Europa League of late.
After qualifying for the group stages, Ernesto Valverde’s side made a promising start to their campaign with a 3-1 win over Augsburg last week.
However, they failed to build any momentum on their return to league action as they went down by the same scoreline to Villarreal, Aritz Aduriz grabbing a late consolation at El Madrigal.