Atleti To Edge Basques In Bilbao
Athletic Bilbao v Atletico Madrid
Champions Atletico Madrid travel to Athletic Bilbao hoping to narrow the gap at the top of the La Liga table ahead of a short festive break in Spain.
Athletic Bilbao have struggled with the demands of Champions League football on top of their domestic campaign and failed to match the standards they set for themselves last season. The Basque club lie tenth in La Liga having failed to pick up half the points of leaders Real, and lie eleven adrift of Sevilla in the final spot to reach Europe’s elite competition next season, having been knocked out of the group stages this term. They’ve lost just one of their past nine games overall though after drawing 1-1 in the Basque derby away to David Moyes’ Real Sociedad last weekend and coming through a tense Spanish Cup tie against Alcoyano on Thursday night with a 1-0 home win seeing them edge past their lower league opponents with a 2-1 win on aggragate victory.
Veteran striker Aritz Aduriz has scored six this season, including five in La Liga while midfileder Ander Iturraspe is the only other Athletic player to have scored more than once in the league.
A run of five games without conceding a goal and six matches without defeat in all competitions came to a surprising and hugely disappointing end for Atletico Madrid last weekend when they suffered a 1-0 home defeat to Villarreal. Despite being only the sixth goal Diego Simeone’s side conceded in the last 13 games that loss was their first of the season at the Vicente Calderon, a third in their last 17 overall and saw Diego Simeone’s side slip seven points behind Champions League winners Real in the Spanish title race. They bounced back instantly from defeat to earn a straightforward 5-2 aggregate win over l’Hospitalet to reach the last 16 of the Copa Del Rey in midweek after reaching the same stage of the Champions League just over a week ago. Mario Mandzukic is the club’s top scorer this season with the Croat striker hitting six in La Liga and 14 in total this term.
Iturraspe and Aymeric Laporte are both missing for Bilbao having picked up red and yellow cards to reach suspensions last weekend while full-back Andoni Iraola is also out through injury.
Atletico are also missing two crucial performers with both top scorer Mandzukic and creator in chief Koke out through suspension while defender Cristian Ansaldi is expected to miss out with a knee problem.
Head to Head
Atletico claimed wins in each of their four games against these opponents last season, although only once by more than one goal
– a 2-0 win at the Vicente Calderon in La Liga last November . The Madrid club have now won seven of the past eight clashes between the sides but have also lost 3-0 in two of their last three league visits to the San Mames while there hasn’t been a draw between the pair since 2005, a run stretching back a remarkable 21 games.
Atletico will be desperate not to lose any more ground on Spain’s big two and can ill-afford to drop any more points if they’re to have any chance of retaining their crown so take the visitors to come away with three points here at 6/5, and an away win with a clean sheet holds plenty of appeal at 12/5. Bilbao have only scored eight times in seven home league games, with Atletico scoring the same amount on their travels. A high-scoring contest looks very unlikely then and so the 6/10 on Under 2.5 goals looks assured if slight but under 1.5 could prove tasty at 9/5, and both teams not scoring looks the pick of the odds-on punts at 4/5.