Tough away test for Real Madrid against Athletic Bilbao in La Liga

Indo Asian News Service

Bilbao (Spain), March 17 (IANS) Real Madrid face perhaps their toughest away test between now and the end of the La Liga football season when they travel to face seventh placed Athletic Club Bilbao on Saturday afternoon.

Madrid go into the game after returning to the top of the La Liga in a controversial fashion last weekend after referee Mateu Lahoz failed to send goalkeeper Keylor Navas for a clear foul when he was the last man, reports Xinhua news agency.

Real coach Zinedine Zidane will have to decide whether he continues with Navas, who was later at fault for Betis' goal in that game, or bring Kiko Casilla into his starting 11. That is a distinct possibility given that Casilla is stronger in the air than the Costa Rican keeper, something Athletic and striker Aritz Aduriz are likely to try and test.

Real forward Gareth Bale is now available following suspension and will go straight back into the side, while midfielder Casemiro will also start after being rested a week ago.

Defenders Pepe and Rafael Varene are both struggling with injury and Nacho Fernando looks likely to partner Sergio Ramos in the heart of the visitors' defence.

Bilbao will be without suspended midfielder Mikel San Jose, whose height will be missed when defending set pieces, but his place should be filled by Ander Iturraspe.

Aduriz should be in a condition to start, while Inaki Williams will be looking to use his pace to cause the Madrid defence problems down the flanks.

The Basque side is unbeaten in its last 19 home matches in all competitions. Although they have a habit of conceding an early goal to their rivals and if their displays have not always been convincing, there is no doubting the faith of a side that will count on the support of a packed stadium where Real Madrid are probably the most unpopular of visitors.

Meanwhile, Real Sociedad visit Vitoria to face Alaves on the back of their 0-2 defeat at home to Bilbao and the latter is thinking of a win which would see them reach the 40 point mark which will assure their survival in the top flight.

Real Sociedad's campaign has been built on a virtually unchanged starting 11, but they have looked tired of late, while the loss of David Zurutuza and Asier Illaramendi could leave them struggling in midfield.