REAL MADRID - ATHLETIC
Life begins at 30: Cristiano Ronaldo versus Aritz Aduriz
Between them they have racked up 55 goals this season. The Bilbao hitman has never scored in the Bernabéu while the Portuguese never struggles to find the target against the Lions.
The Benjamin Button of La Primera, Aritz Aduriz, makes his way to the Bernabéu this afternoon. The Basque marksman’s effectiveness in front of goal increased twofold after turning 31. Now at 35, he has already hit the onion bag 25 times this season. “He is a peculiar case”, Ernesto Valverde admitted yesterday. Even more peculiar given the fact he has never scored in Madrid’s stadium. At a certain point strikers tend to lose their edge and their scoring abilities begin to wane, many wind up dropping deeper as a result, turning to their cunning as their explosiveness fades away. Aduriz is definitely bucking this trend.
On the other side of the pitch stands Cristiano Ronaldo. Certain sections of Madrid supporters believe the Portuguese has been losing his Midas touch in front of goal with the passing of each year. This argument doesn’t quite hold up when presented with the cold stats: 30 goals in 29 matches. However, given the standards he has set for himself throughout his career this ratio is hardly remarkable and becomes even less so when his failure to convert chances in the big games is also factored in. Saying that, his record against Athletic Club is nothing short of phenomenal. “Best not to make him angry”, noted Valverde in his pre-match press conference. Ronaldo has notched up 14 goals against the Bilbao outfit in just 13 games. And today he has a point to prove.
Both sides will be missing key players for this meeting. The visitors will have to make do without Raúl García, Williams, Ibai Gómez and Susaeta. With that in mind, Aduriz will be looking to Lekue and Sabin Merino – more workhorses than locksmiths - for service.
Madrid, who have a few tough fixtures coming up, will be weakened due to the absence of Marcelo. The left back is the side’s only player who doesn’t have suitable replacement and Zidane will have to bring in a right footer to cover the injured Brazilian: Danilo or Nacho. The Frenchman will also play Kovacic so as to give Isco a rest with the Roma around the corner. The Croatian has only started four league encounters, one of which was at San Mamés where he failed to make much of an impact.
Athletic have had an erratic season. At one stage they were twentieth but they found their groove began to climb the table and now sit sixth. Good performances against the bigger sides haven’t been rewarded: Barca beat them three times last month, Atlético overcame them at the Calderón and Madrid come away from Bilbao with three points earlier in the season. History doesn’t favour them today either: 15 defeats suffered in their last 16 visits to the Bernabéu.