The Basques and the Madrileños are both keen to return to winning ways after losing to their rivals, Real Sociedad and FC Barcelona, last weekend.
Athletic Club and Real Madrid will face each other in the upcoming matchday of LaLiga Santander in what is an eagerly anticipated clash. Given that the two clubs head into Sunday’s match on the back of disappointments last weekend, they’ll both be looking to bounce back. This is always an eye-catching encounter and here are five factors that are worth looking out for and that make this one of the top games of Matchday 18.
This is a chance to bounce back
Both these teams suffered 3-1 losses in important games last weekend, as Athletic Club lost the Basque Derby in the previous matchday at the Reale Arena against Real Sociedad, while Los Merengues fell to defeat in the Spanish Super Cup final against FC Barcelona. As such, both squads are viewing this fixture as an opportunity to forget those respective defeats. In the case of Athletic Club, the fact that they haven’t yet collected a three-point haul from any of their LaLiga Santander matches since the end of the World Cup means they’re extra hungry. It’s always a special game when they take on Real Madrid and this would be as good a time as any for Los Leones to break that winless run.
The battle between Vivian and Benzema
All eyes will be on the individual duel between Daniel Vivian and Karim Benzema. The 23-year-old Basque is a regular starter at centre-back for Athletic, but he comes into this game without a partner. With Íñigo Martínez injured and Yeray Álvarez suspended, Vivian will have to step up and lead the back line against Benzema, who is back in scoring form. The Frenchman has managed to score in every game since the resumption of club football, as he has netted against Real Valladolid and Villarreal CF in the league and also against Valencia CF and FC Barcelona in the Spanish Super Cup. Currently third in the ranking for the Pichichi Trophy (behind Joselu with 10 goals and Robert Lewandowski with 13 goals scored in the season), Benzema will do his best to continue climbing the standings as he looks to retain the trophy he won last season.
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The first Valverde vs Ancelotti in eight years
There will also be an interesting duel in the San Mamés dugouts. Ernesto Valverde and Carlo Ancelotti are two of the most brilliant coaches in the competition and have faced each other not only as coaches of their current teams but also during their stints at Valencia CF and PSG. When they were at those clubs, they met in the 2012-13 Champions League last 16. In six meetings, Ancelotti has won three times, there have been two draws and Valverde has triumphed once, but his sole win was in their most recent meeting, a 1-0 Athletic Club victory in LaLiga Santander in 2014-15. These are two coaches with defined styles of play and the tactical duel between the two will make the match all the more attractive.
Real Madrid aim to keep up their impressive run at San Mamés
Real Madrid haven’t lost at San Mamés in any of the league matches between Athletic Club and Los Blancos over the past seven seasons. Furthermore, Los Merengues secured victory in each of their past three league trips to Bilbao. They’ll want to keep this streak going, although they’ll be up against a motivated Athletic Club side who are fighting for European qualification and who need the three points to stay in the top third of the table.
The Williams brothers
Every LaLiga Santander game at San Mamés this season is worth watching because Iñaki Williams and Nico Williams are playing some excellent football. The brothers are producing very impressive statistics, as Iñaki is the top scorer of the squad with five league goals in 2022/23, while Nico has the most assists with four. If both players keep their spots in the starting line-up, this will be the first time that the two brothers start together against Real Madrid in a LaLiga Santander match.