Madrid, April 14 (IANS) Athletic Club Bilbao and Real Madrid play the last game between themselves in the San Mames Stadium.
Athletic Club, who are nine points above the relegation zone, are counting down the games left to be played in their emblematic stadium before moving to a new ground at the start of next season, reports Xinhua.
It seems as if every home match from now until the end of the campaign is significant. But more than any, this is the one the home fans want to win, especially after Real Madrid refused to allow last season’s final of the Copa del Rey between Athletic Club and Barca to be played in the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.
That saw the game being played in the Vicente Calderon, which has a capacity of around 25,000 less, meaning around 13,000 Athletic fans missed out on the chance of seeing the game in-person.
However, for the home fans the game is still about points, given that Athletic still can’t take their foot off the gas in case sides below them start to pick up points. But they have several key players missing for the tie with Aymeric Laporte, Aritz Aduriz, Oscar de Marcos and Carlos Gurpegui all suspended after seeing yellow cards, shown by Jose Mourinho’s ‘favourite’ referee Mateu Lahoz, in their 1-2 defeat away to Sevilla Monday night.
With Andoni Iriola, Inigo Perez and Inigo Ruiz de Galarreta all injured, coach Marcelo Bielsa will have to make sweeping changes to his usual starting 11 and Fernando Llorente will probably start in attack with Jonas Ramalho at right back.
Real Madrid coach Mourinho was in Germany Saturday to watch Borussia Dortmund, his side’s rival for the Champions League semifinal, in action, and he too will make changes to his side with Europe now Madrid’s main priority. Kaka, Mesut Ozil, Alvaro Arbeloa and Michael Essien will all miss out through injury and there is a doubt over midfielder Xabi Alonso.
As always in recent matches the big question is whether or not Mourinho will recall Spain international goalkeeper Iker Casillas for the game and the truth is that it would be an emotive return for Casillas in more ways than one, given that San Mames was the ground where he made his first team debut for Madrid as an 18-year-old.
A lot has happened since then but it is probable that Mourinho will keep faith in Diego Lopez, who has done nothing to deserve losing his place.
Athletic have suffered some painful defeats to Madrid in recent meetings and a full San Mames will expect an improvement this time. The question is: Will Athletic catch Madrid with half an eye on Champions League glory?