Real Madrid have every reason to be wary of Athletic Bilbao this weekend. Jose Mourinho's club has a somewhat comfortable five point lead in the league table, they just lost at home yet again to Barcelona in their Copa de Rey first leg match in the midweek (and face them again on Wednesday), and Bilbao is surging up the table. It's the classic trap game that sometimes ensnares even the best teams, and this Madrid side is definitely one of those.
Mourinho will no doubt have the second leg meeting with the Blaugranes on his mind, but getting it out of his player's heads will likely be more important. Madrid looked annoyed and frustrated by the final whistle on Wednesday and any malaise from that disappointing performance could open a door for Los Leones.
Spanish newspaper Marca is reporting that Madrid defender Pepe will be out of this match with a sore muscle, but you have to wonder if it has more to do with letting things cool down around him after stamping on Lionel Messi's hand. Mourinho was non-commital about the status of Angel di Maria who has yet to play this year after picking up an injury in training in late December. Sami Khedira is still doubtful with a sprained ankle, butAlvaro Arbeloa is back from suspension.
You would think that Marcelo Bielsa is enjoying his situation a little better at the moment. After coming under heavy pressure early in the season with only two points from their first five matches, Bielsa has turned his young and talented around with only 2 losses in their next 24 matches matches. The run of form has moved Bilbao to fifth place in the league, only four points behind Levante for a Champions League qualification spot.
Fernando Llorente is back for Los Leones, but there are several players that will likely be match day decisions for the Argentine coach.
Real Madrid vs. Athletic Bilbao
Game Date/Time: Sunday, 3:30 p.m. ET
Venue: Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, Madrid, Spain
TV: ESPN Deportes (USA - Spanish), GolTV Canada (Canada), Sky Sports 1 (UK)
For more on Los Merengues, check out Managing Madrid.