Athletic Bilbao vs. Real Madrid: Preview, Live Stream, Start Time and More

Gianluca Nesci@@GianlucaNesciContributor IIIApril 27, 2012

Real Madrid will lock horns with Athletic Bilbao in midweek action on Wednesday, and the Galacticos will head into the match knowing that three points could potentially be enough to seal their first league title since 2007-08.

Los Blancos took a monumental step toward the championship last weekend when they came away from the Camp Nou with a 2-1 victory.

Currently holding a seven-point lead over Barcelona at the top of the table, Madrid need two victories in the final four games of the season to secure the crown without any help from their bitter rivals.

Assuming both teams win their upcoming matches this weekend—against Sevilla and Rayo Vallecano, respectively—a win for Madrid on Wednesday would put the title out of reach for Barca, regardless of what they accomplish in the last two games of the year.

With Jose Mourinho leading the way, it is hard to see the capital club letting things slip after working so hard to get this close.

But in Athletic Bilbao, Madrid will find an opponent more than capable of spoiling the party—or at least putting it on hold for a week.

Here is everything you need to know about what could end up being a historic match for Real Madrid, as Mourinho hopes to add Spain to his list of conquered nations.


Where: Estadio San Mamés, Bilbao, Spain

When: Wednesday, May 2, 4 p.m. ET

Watch: Gol TV


Bilbao Hoping to Build on Europa League Success

While Madrid will be buoyed by their chance to clinch the league crown, Bilbao are currently flying high as well.

The Basque club recently secured its place in the Europa League final with a thrilling 4-3 aggregate victory over Sporting Lisbon—the winning goal being scored in the 88th minute of the second-leg by star striker Fernando Llorente.

As such, confidence is high at the club, and that could be a factor come Wednesday. After all, form can very often turn what seems to be a mismatch on paper into an enthralling encounter.

In addition, Bilbao are also fighting for the final UEFA Champions League berth, as they trail fourth-place club Malaga by just four points.

That makes the situation all the more difficult for manager Marcelo Bielsa, who will have to decide whether or not to rest his stars in anticipation of the May 9 final against Atletico Madrid in Bucharest, or if he should focus on the league table.

The winner of the Europa League does not gain automatic qualification into Europe's showpiece event, meaning Bilbao find themselves with a slight dilemma to deal with.

If the Argentine does indeed decide to give some of his preferred starting eleven the day off, that will certainly give Madrid the advantage.


Players to Watch

Whenever Real Madrid take the field, Cristiano Ronaldo is the name on everybody's lips. The world's most expensive footballer often grabs the headlines for his goal-scoring exploits, fancy tricks, flicks and skill with the ball at his feet.

Indeed, the Portuguese international has been in fine form recently, scoring the winner over Barcelona last weekend, while adding two goals during his side's disappointing loss at the hands of Bayern Munich in the Champions League semifinal.

But Madrid is loaded with star power across the field, and Bilbao will be well-aware that their opponents can beat them with a moment of magic from any one of their high-priced players.

One such man is German playmaker Mesut Ozil, who leads the league with 16 assists. His link-up play with Ronaldo—as well as strikers Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuain—has been a joy to watch this season.

Given space to operate, the 23-year-old can pick apart even the tightest defense.

For the hosts, Fernando Llorente gets most of the attention for his team-leading 17 goals. In fact, his inspired performance against Sporting Lisbon left Bielsa full of praise for the towering striker, calling it the best game he has ever seen Llorente play at the club.

But if Bilbao hope to win this match, they will need to be almost perfect at the back, meaning the defenders in red, white and black will be the stars of the show.

Right-back Andoni Iraola and center-back Fernando Amorebieta have been two of the most solid performers for the club this season, and they will need to be flawless on Wednesday.

The latter will hope to replicate his impressive showing against Sporting Lisbon, where he dominated play in the air and was strong in the tackle. Iraola, meanwhile, also has the ability to get forward, as demonstrated by his impressive run against Manchester United earlier in the year, which would have been a candidate for goal of the season had he found the net.

He will be tasked with marking Ronaldo, but his ability to get forward and pressure either Marcelo or Fabio Coentrao will be important if Bilbao are to ensure that they don't spend the entire match in their own half.


Prediction: 3-1 Real Madrid

With the title in touching distance, don't expect Madrid to slip up going down the stretch. In front of an electric, hostile crowd at the San Mamés, it won't be easy for the league-leaders, but they should come away with all three points as Bilbao could rest important players ahead of the Europa League final.


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