Julen Lopetegui’s seamless start to life as Real Madrid manager comes under scrutiny when his early season pacesetters travel to the intimidating Estadio San Mames to battle Eduardo Berrizo’s Athletic Bilbao on Saturday night.
The hosts won the last two of their nine Primera Liga titles in 1983 and 1984, the later under Javier Clemente but are capable of rattling any visitors.
Los Blancos are coping well with the summer departure of club record goal scorer Cristiano Ronaldo. Lopetegui has largely chosen to stick with the starting lineup that started last season’s Champions League final victory over Liverpool in Kiev, with Marco Asensio promoted to take Ronaldo’s place in a front three along with Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema.
Asensio has vindicated his slot with a string of compelling performances. A rare product of the Madrid academy, he enhanced his burgeoning reputation by starring for Spain’s national team in a 6-0 hammering of World Cup finalists Croatia in a Uefa Nations League match on Tuesday.
Five Real Madrid players – Nacho, Sergio Ramos, Isco, Asensio and Dani Carvajlal started both La Roja matches as Luis Enrique begun his tenure as Spain boss. A forthcoming midweek Champions League fixture with AS Roma notwithstanding, all five are expected to start in the Basque country as Real protect their one hundred percent record.
Meanwhile, Ernesto Valverde’s defending champions Barcelona only trail Real Madrid on goal difference. The Blagruana also visit the Basque country Saturday night and must negotiate a potential banana peel at Real Sociedad’s Estadio Anoeta.
An open game is anticipated as Valverde has abandoned the 4-4-2 formation that won his last season’s double in favour of a more porous 4-3-3.
Spain’s two other Champions League representatives – Valencia and Atletico Madrid, are also in action on Saturday. Valencia welcome a rejuvenated Real Betis to the Mestalla whereas Atletico Madrid host lowly Eibar at Estadio Wanda Metropolitano.
Liga Santander action commences Friday evening with a slugfest between newly promoted clubs Huesca and Rayo Vallecano. On Sunday, the other recent arrival – Real Valladolid host Alaves in their first game since Brazilian legend Luis Nazario Ronaldo da Lima bought a majority stake in the club.
The Full fixture list for this weekend’s games:
Huesca v Rayo Vallecano
Athletic Bilbao v Real Madrid
Real Sociedad v Barcelona
Atletico Madrid v Eibar
Valencia v Real Betis
Seville v Getafe
Real Valladolid v Alaves,
Espanyol v Levante
Leganes v Villareal
Girona v Celta Vigo,
*All la Liga games on Super Sport 7