Pretty much any side on the planet would take the likes of Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo at their club in a heartbeat if the opportunity arose wouldn’t they? But not Real Madrid’s next opponents, Athletic Bilbao.
The Basque side host Madrid on Sunday evening in a match that sees the Galacticos of Madrid take on the homegrown talent of Bilbao. The home side are one of the few clubs in world football to still source their players from the local community and famously have rules in place to ensure that all of their squad are from—or at least developed in—the Basque region.
The Lions have been performing above expectations this season and find themselves in fourth place in La Liga, just one place behind their illustrious opponents. The clubs are polar opposites in terms of their approaches, but who will come out on top this weekend? Squawka bring you a statistical preview of the action.
Stopping the Galacticos
Unsurprisingly, given the resources at their disposal, Madrid’s lavish spending has propelled them to the top of the league’s goalscoring charts. The capital side have scored 60 goals this season, three more than their closest contenders Barcelona and 19 more than Sunday’s opponents. Carlo Ancelotti’s men have averaged a staggering 2.86 goals per game in La Liga this season, around 0.9 goals per game more than Bilbao have registered.
Half of these goals have come courtesy of big-money duo Bale and Ronaldo. Welshman Bale has eight goals and seven assists from 14 appearances this season, averaging a goal or assist every 61 minutes; Ronaldo has 22 goals and five assists from 20 appearances.
This makes him the league’s highest scoring player and means that he finds the back of the net every 80 minutes that he spends on the pitch.
One of these goals came last time the two sides played—a 3-1 Real win at the Bernabeu. Ronaldo put in a man of the match display during that game, peppering the Bilbao goal with seven shots. He also successfully went past his man on four occasions during the course of the 90 minutes, contributing four to the take-on total of 42 that he has completed this season.
Real head into the game on the back of a run of form that has seen them go 11 league games unbeaten, including 10 victories during that time, and on paper will be confident of extending that run as they try to keep the pressure on the top two.
However, the Madrid unbeaten record will be in for a stern test. Bilbao are unbeaten at home this season and are the only side to have emerged victorious against Barcelona in this season’s La Liga. While their form has been indifferent away from home, Bilbao have won nine and drawn two of their 11 home games this season.
Only Valencia and Elche have left the San Mames stadium with a point this season, and the 1-0 defeat to Bilbao is the only blot on Barcelona’s copybook so far this season.
Man of the match in that victory Markel Susaeta could be the key man if Bilbao are to pull off another famous victory. The right winger encapsulates the Jeckyll and Hyde nature of the side. His cumulative Squawka Performance Score from home fixtures is almost double that of his scores from away games, while he has created over double the number of chances in home games (30) than he has in away games (14).
Susaeta set up the winner against Barcelona and also completed four take-ons, as well as putting in a defensive shift with five successful tackles. His assist was one of eight chances that he created for his teammates in that game—four times more than any other player on the pitch contributed during that game.
Susaeta has created 44 chances this season, more than any of his teammates. Bilbao have put in more crosses than any other La Liga side this season, and Susaeta has been a large part of that with his delivery from the right-hand side.
If Madrid are to become the first side to leave Bilbao with a victory this season then Marcelo must successfully get to grips with Susaeta. He did in the return fixture, but to do so in Bilbao will be an altogether tougher proposition.
Most referees are Real Madrid fans?
Bilbao-born former referee Eduardo Iturralde Gonzalez this week claimed that most Spanish referees are Real Madrid fans, according to a report by TomConn on Inside Spanish Football. Adding an interesting subplot to this weekend’s game, Iturralde claimed that it is only natural that many referees are Real fans, saying:
Referees don’t come from Mars. You get into officiating because you love football, and if you like football, I don’t think there’s anyone who doesn’t like a certain team. For the most part, [people in Spani] support Real Madrid or Barcelona. And from that come the referees, the majority of whom support Real Madrid.
He may be correct, but do the stats suggest any kind of bias to Real?
On average, Madrid commit 12 fouls per game, making them the fourth cleanest team when measured by fouls conceded. They have suffered more fouls than they have dished out and have averaged 13 fouls suffered per game, the seventh highest in the league.
The capital side are also low when it comes to picking up cards. Only three sides have picked up fewer cards than Real this season, while they are one of only five teams to have been given fewer than two red cards.
Of course, none of this means that referees are Real Madrid fans as suggested. Real have made the second highest number of passes in the league and are in possession for 53 percent of each game, making it inevitable that their discipline statistics are low. The stats are, at best, inconclusive, but provide food for thought ahead of the game.