Best odds: 29/10
Atletico Madrid and Mallorca opened the 34th round of the 2019/20 La Liga campaign on Friday in a game which the Rojiblancos won rather convincingly by 3-0. The remaining games are set to be played over the following three days, but the one likely to attract the most attention will be the one in which Athletic Bilbao play host to Real Madrid at the San Mames on Sunday afternoon.
The Basque team have had a decent enough season. Reaching the Copa del Rey final is undoubtedly its highlight so far, though the date of it is still to be decided. Back in May, both teams (Real Sociedad being the other finalist) have agreed to postpone it until such time it can be played in front of the fans. But it is certainly a great chance to win their first trophy since 2015, when as runners-up of the competition, they surprised treble winners Barcelona in the Supercopa de Espana. Before that, they hadn’t won anything since 1984.
Bilbao currently sit in eight place in the La Liga table with 48 points to their name. Despite the teams being narrowly packed in that area (10 points separate Villareal in fifth and Osasuna in 11th), their chances of finishing within the top four are only theoretical; but they can still reach a place that leads into the Europa League. Getafe in sixth are only four points ahead, and there are still five rounds to go.
Gaizka Garitano’s team are on fine form at the moment. They returned to action following the three-month break with two draws, at home against Atletico and away to Eibar, then they beat Real Betis at home, lost away to Barcelona, and rounded the last-six league run with triumphs at home against Mallorca and away to Valencia.
Midfielder Benat Etxebarria has been out for a while with a hip problem, but Garitano won’t have any other worries regarding the players’ availability. However, with only four days between the win over Valencia at the Mestalla and this game, you’d expect the coach to make at least one or two changes to his starting XI.
With Barcelona winning the La Liga title in the last two seasons, it seems Real are on course to break the Catalans’ string. They are currently at the top of the table with a four-point advantage over their arch-rivals, who haven’t exactly been sparkling either on the pitch, or off it. It means Los Blancos are allowed one slip of result, as things stand, but they will be looking not to let it happen too soon.
On the other hand, their Champions League campaign looks likely to be brought to a halt. They were beaten 1-2 at the Santiago Bernabeu by Manchester City in the first leg of the round of 16, and they now face an uphill task of overturning the deficit against a fierce team led by former Barcelona boss, Pep Guardiola.
The fact that Real won all of their previous six La Liga encounters certainly looks encouraging ahead of the Bilbao trip. Eibar, Valencia, Sociedad, Mallorca, Espanyol and Getafe all fell before the feet of Zinedine Zidane’s team since the return of football, despite the fact that they’ve been playing their home matches at the Alfredo Di Stefano stadium, the home of their Castilla team, instead of the Santiago Bernabeu which is currently under reconstruction.
However, this excellent run will only have made the need to keep focus and avoid complacency greater.
Zidane has a few defensive issues to ponder ahead of this game. Raphael Varane a doubt due to a possible head injury he suffered against Getafe, and though some reports suggest he will be available, others claim a decision won’t be made until Sunday morning. But whatever is the case with Varane, Nacho Fernandez is still out due to a hamstring problem.
Meanwhile, winger Eden Hazard is likely to start, having been rested against Getafe.
Real’s recent run has indeed been marvelous, but this won’t be an easy trip for them by any means. Bilbao can be a tricky team when playing at home, even without the fans. On their best day, Real probably shouldn’t have too many difficulties against them with the immense quality in their squad, but it remains to be seen what Sunday will show in that respect. It certainly wouldn’t be too much of a surprise if they were to drop two points at the San Mames and make the title race thrilling again.
Best odds: 29/10
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