What: Spanish La Liga
Who: Athletic Bilbao vs Atletico Madrid
When: Sunday 27th January, 2013, at 20:00 UK Time
Where: San Mames, Bilbao, Spain
It is fair to say that Athletic Bilbao have not been having their best season so far. A 14th place standing for Los Leones is hardly the type that such a prestigious club deserves. But with sub-standard showings, Athletic Bilbao have drifted from the group of La Liga’s big guns. Against second-placed Atletico Madrid, they will have a chance to prove themselves against one of the league’s best sides this season. However, even at their own football cathedral, Marcelo Bielsa’s side must exhibit the better aspect of their game should they want to emerge victorious.
Two wins in their last nine games has left Athletic Bilbao in crisis. Furthermore, Bielsa looks to be making more enemies than friends at the club: Club talisman and Euro 2012 winner Fernando Llorente – who will move to Juventus in the summer – continues to be discarded from the starting eleven, making just one appearance as a starter so far in the league this season. Furthermore, the manager surprised many by discarding Fernando Amorebieta in the team’s last trip, to Real Betis.
Recent history does not favour the home side in this one, as they have won just two of their last six encounters against Atletico Madrid, including a 3-0 loss in last term’s Europa League final in Bucharest. However, with Radamel Falcao missing through injury, Athletic Bilbao will face a slightly easier test on the night.
Keeping The Dream
Barcelona’s 3-2 loss at Real Sociedad last weekend brought Atletico Madrid closer to the Blaugrana, as their 2-0 win over Levante slashed the deficit between the two sides to eight points. Realistically, Barcelona are still in charge, and such a gap is almost impossible to reverse when a team of their calibre is involved, but that does not change the fact the Rojiblancos are flying high in the league, and are seven points ahead of eternal rivals Real Madrid. Having not tasted defeat since their 4-1 loss to Barcelona in December, Atletico Madrid will want to continue their streak in this one.
Atletico Madrid managed to overcome Real Betis in the Copa del Rey quarter-final, locking a showdown with another Andalucian side, Sevilla, in the semi-final, a team that on paper, they are expected to overcome and go all the way to the final to meet either Real Madrid or Barcelona.
The team managed to keep their game running amidst Radamel Falcao’s absence. The Columbian has scored 18 of his side’s 42 league goals this season and his absence will prove to be a real test of the Mattress Makers’ credibility as one of the top sides in the league system.
Facing Athletic Bilbao will be another test for Diego Simeone’s side, who highlighted the difficulty of this match despite their opponents’ hardship. “We always live reality and reality tells us that we travel to Bilbao, to play a game in a short amount of time, against very tough opponents”, declared the Argentine after the recent match against Betis.
Levante 3-1 Athletic Bilbao (05/01; La Liga)
Athletic Bilbao 1-2 Rayo Vallecano (11/01; La Liga)
Real Betis 1-1 Athletic Bilbao (21/01; La Liga)
Atletico Madrid 2-0 Real Betis (17/01; Copa del Rey)
Atletico Madrid 2-0 Levante (20/01; La Liga)
Real Betis 1-1 Atletico Madrid (24/01; Copa del Rey)
Athletic Bilbao: Carlos Gurpegui (doubt); Inigo Perez; Ruiz de Galarreta
Atletico Madrid: Juanfran (doubt); Abdelkader Ouelasti; Radamel Falcao
Players to watch
Athletic Bilbao – Gorka Iraizoz: The custodian is not having the best of seasons, having conceded 40 goals, almost twice the number of matches he has played. Against an attacking side such as Atletico Madrid, the Pamplona-born keeper must improve his displays should he want to be a hero at the San Mames, even with Falcao missing this one.
Atletico Madrid – Adrian Lopez: The Spaniard has been more of a substitute than a starter this season, but he will relish his chance now as Falcao sits this one out. Lopez can be a nuisance should he be given license to roam, and will need to be carefully monitored should the Basques want to end the night on a happy note.
Athletic Bilbao have been enduring hard times. Adding insult to injury is the fact that their young gem Iker Muniain seems to be out of form lately. Atletico Madrid are one of the best Spanish sides so far this season and it is hard to see their run end, even at the San Mames. Athletic Bilbao 0-2 Atletico Madrid.
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