As we get closer to El Clásico, Real Madrid have some tough rivals before that big date. Los Blancos can’t afford to drop any more points, since the top four teams aren’t giving an inch. Against Athletic, the team faces a challenge, despite the Basque team’s current state. With Ronaldo’s presence still unclear, Real look to win the three points and stay close to the top. Following the international break, the have to visit Levante and Liverpool.
Preferred Formation: 4-3-3
We’re used to it by now, but Ancelotti’s favorite system still shows some clear flaws. With three creative midfielders and no destructive ones, the team is forced to pass the ball around and find an open spot. This is definitely harming Gareth Bale’s form, since he doesn’t excel if he has less field for running. However, Carlo will continue to trust this system, with the usual shifting to the 4-4-2 when defending.
GK: Iker Casillas
He went from bad to good against Ludogorets. It’s still obvious that his confidence isn’t quite high. The possibility of Navas’ starting isn’t really strong. Iker will need to work hard in set pieces, since Bilbao take advantage of aerial plays well.
RB: Dani Carvajal
Arbeloa did a decent job against a tough rival in the UCL. Nevertheless, it looks like Carvajal will start. When they played Villarreal, both full backs were attack-minded and it didn’t work out extremely well.
Varane has done nothing wrong, yet Pepe needs some pitch time following his injury. In order to be fair to Raphaël, Ramos should be the one resting. The Pepe-Ramos pair is the usual one, and it’s very possible it will return for this match.
CB: Sergio Ramos
We don’t see the best Ramos until February or March. That’s an unwritten law since he arrived at Madrid. He starts the season unfocused, trying too hard and failing too much. Varane should play, still it doesn’t seem Ramos will be benched.
In the last few matches, and as usual, his wing is exploited by rivals. Coentrão hasn’t recovered at the time of writing. The Nacho alternative should be considered, since he always delivers and he’s more tactically disciplined.
RCM: Luka Modrić
Against Ludogorets he had one of the weakest matches we’ve seen from the Croatian. He didn’t connect well with Illarramendi. Since Kroos will return, maybe he will be able to regain that momentum.
CM: Toni Kroos
When he came in on Wednesday, the team was relieved. He deserved a little break, yet he’s become essential for the stability of the midfield. He always performs at a good level, and Bilbao isn’t an easy one, which makes his job more important.
LCM: James Rodríguez
After coming from the bench in the Champions League, he’ll regain his starting role. Isco didn’t do a bad job, but the Colombian has unofficially become the starter. This will be another great test, since the rival will come out swinging..
RW: Gareth Bale
He hasn’t done enough to deserve his spot. He disconnects too often during a match, he fails to beat opponents and he keeps the ball for too long. A good wake up call would be to bench him. However, he had a knack for shining in the big games last season.
ST: Karim Benzema
Kept Real from a debacle versus Ludogorets. He’ll start once again and do that invisible work that makes Ronaldo and Bale so lethal. It’s quite possible that at some point in the match, Chicharito will take his spot. The Mexican deserves more opportunities.
LW: Cristiano Ronaldo
He failed a penalty on Wednesday and then created another one out of nowhere. He keeps on scoring goals, and Athletic is one of his favorite “victims.” It’s still not confirmed if he will play, but being as he is, the possibility that he will force it is high.