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March 17, 2017
Real Madrid will look to extend their lead at the top of La Liga to five points when they take on Athletic Bilbao at the San Mames Stadium on Saturday.
With Barca not taking on Valencia until Sunday, Los Blancos have a fine opportunity to pile pressure on their key title rivals by claiming three points in Bilbao.
It will be a challenge for Zinedine Zidane’s side, though, as Athletic are unbeaten at home in all competitions since August, a run encompassing 19 matches.
Read on for the latest team news ahead of the clash, along with a preview of the fixture and viewing information.
Date: Saturday, March 18
Time: 3:15 p.m. GMT, 11:15 a.m. ET
TV Info: beIN Sports (U.S.)
Live Stream: beIN Sports Connect
Per Sport, centre-back Pepe missed Real’s narrow 2-1 defeat of Real Betis last time out due to injury, but he could return for the Athletic clash.
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Meanwhile, Gareth Bale will likely be welcomed back to the starting XI having served his two-match suspension.
Ernesto Valverde should have almost a full squad to select from, with forward Sabin the only man likely to be unavailable due to an injury picked up late last month.
Possible Athletic XI: Kepa; Boveda, Yeray, Laporte, Balenziaga; San Jose, Benat; Lekue, Raul Garcia, Muniain; Williams
Possible Real XI: Navas; Carvajal, Pepe, Ramos, Marcelo; Modric, Casemiro, Kroos; Bale, Benzema, Ronaldo
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Real will need to be at their best if they are to beat Athletic, as the Basque outfit’s only home defeat this season was a 1-0 loss to Barcelona.
Given their recent performances, Zidane is likely to demand an improvement from his players as they look to take one step closer to a first Liga title since 2012.
Though Los Blancos have won their last three games on the bounce, their most recent victories against Napoli and Betis both required Sergio Ramos-inspired comebacks in the second half.
The superlative Spanish centre-back admitted after the Betis win that Real need to get better, if nothing else but to entertain their fans, per Movistar (via MailOnline’s Andy Warren): “In football what is important is the result, but it is right that we have to improve our play a little more so that the fans can enjoy it.”
Another tight encounter is to be expected, though, against Valverde’s well-drilled side, who boast a solid back line—they have conceded only 13 goals at home in 14 Liga matches in 2016-17.
Given Real’s immense firepower, there is little chance of Athletic keeping them from scoring, as no other side has kept a clean sheet against the European champions since last April, per the UEFA Champions League:
Champions League @ChampionsLeague
Real Madrid have scored in a Spanish record 48 consecutive games in all competitions. ⚽️ #UCL https://t.co/jCM3kFJh1L
3/13/2017, 2:16:03 PM
Bale’s return should galvanise the Madrid outfit’s attack, as his pace and movement can cause equal havoc on the right as Cristiano Ronaldo does on the left.
The key men for Athletic will be centre-backs Aymeric Laporte and Yeray, while the attacking likes of Inaki Williams, Raul Garcia and Aritz Aduriz will have to be clinical with any chances they carve out.
Athletic will be confident going into the fixture of taking something from the match, given their impeccable recent home record.
But Real will undoubtedly look to put pressure on the hosts with a fast start as they look to extend their lead at the head of the standings and pile the pressure on to Barca.