After effectively sealing the Champions League quarter final tie against Spurs, Real Madrid travelled to San Mames to take on fifth placed Athletic Bilbao tonight. A loss tonight would push Barcelona one more step closer to the league title – mathematically, Barcelona needs to win all three of their league games in April in order to end the title chase for good. At this juncture, everyone is going into the game with the assumption that the title is still up for grabs.
It is likely that Mourinho will go with his usual 4-2-3-1 formation:
Though MARCA reckons we’re likely to see a lineup with Higuain up front, Ronaldo, Ozil and Adebayor behind him, followed by Xabi and Lass and in defense the quartet of Marcelo, Albiol, Pepe and Ramos. While there might be some verity in their predicted line-up, I doubt Higuain is fully match-fit. It will be too much of a gamble to start Higuain, especially when the end result will all but end in futility. Mourinho is a strategist – I doubt he’d want to risk losing the war for a single battle.
Personally, I’d have rather he rested Di Maria and Ozil and instead called up one of the canteranos – probably Sarabia. Instead, I’d have liked to see Kaka and Ronaldo alongside maybe Canales, with Sarabia coming on for any one of them in the second half; Adebayor up front with Higuain coming on after about sixty minutes. It is a risk to play Ozil and Di Maria, considering they are still young and they have a mountainous task ahead – four possible encounters against Barcelona in a space of 18 days where two titles are on the line. By playing them in the league that is effectively Barcelona’s to lose, Mourinho is exposing them to both fatigue and injury. Actually, the latter is applicable for everyone on the possible starting line up, but that’s just football – I don’t think at the beginning of the season anyone predicted that we will face Barcelona five times in a single season; six, if you count the Spanish super cup tie prior to the beginning of the next one.
With Khedira out because of flu, I suppose we will be going forward more – though the absence of a defensive midfielder is slightly worrying. As for Xabi Alonso, I would’ve rather had Granero and Lass start – again the same anxiety over the threat of an injury. The disastrous match against Gijon was evident enough to show how vital Alonso is in generating the team’s creative spark. As for Adebayor, I still don’t want him to stay on after this season. Despite that, I was grudgingly content with his two goals (though I’d rather convince myself his goals came as a result of horrible man-marking by Spurs – which is true to an extent) in the Champions League and am keeping my fingers crossed he won’t blow our chances like he did against Gijon.
The defense will have to probably tackle the twin threats of Llorente and Toquero up front. Iker Muniain is a doubt for the game after scoring against Almeria last week. The youngster is reported to have picked up a knock. Even if Muniain is unavailable for them, there is still the threat of Javi Martinez in midfield. However, statistics are in our favour since Bilbao have been very inconsistent throughout the league, suffering unexpected defeats against lower tier teams. The last time the two sides met at the Bernabeu, Real hammered them 5-1.
Lastly, a win tonight will go a long way in cultivating team confidence before facing Barcelona next week.