Real Madrid’s Squad Depth Will Be Tested in Bilbao

Sergio Ramos, Rodrygo Goes, Karim Benzema, Marco Asensio
Real Madrid take on Athletic Club on Sunday | Angel Martinez/Getty Images

Real Madrid have shown that they really mean business since play got back underway.

Indeed, Los Blancos have wasted no time in getting into their stride since the restart, winning all six games. Zinedine Zidane’s men have bagged 12 goals during this time, while they have conceded just the twice. In fact, they have kept clean sheets in their last three matches.

Zinedine ZidaneZinedine Zidane
Zidane’s men have been in fine form since the restart | Angel Martinez/Getty Images

Even in games when Real haven’t exactly looked at their best since the resumption of play, such as last time out against Getafe, they have found a way to win.

That is what championship-winning teams do.

But Los Blancos’ next clash will be another fierce test of their title credentials as they travel to take on Athletic Club on Sunday. Not only have Athletic proven to be a very tough opponent, especially at home, Zinedine Zidane will be without two key players.

Raphael Varane and Eden Hazard will both miss Sunday’s game due to injury. Varane was forced off with a head injury during Los Blancos’ last game against Getafe, with Eder Militao coming on to replace him. Hazard, meanwhile, was thought to have been rested for the clash with Getafe, after being left out of the squad altogether, but Zidane recently explained that the Belgium international has been suffering with various niggling injuries.

The winger will not be available for selection against Athletic Club, but Zidane has admitted that he hopes to have him back before the end of the season.

Indeed, since play got back underway, Hazard has looked much more like his former self, contributing two assists in his four appearances. Overall, he has looked sharp, using his dazzling feet and skill to skip away from defenders and cause danger.

As for Varane, his importance to the Real Madrid team cannot be understated. The World Cup winner remains a criminally underrated footballer, with his composure, speed and ability to read the game allowing him to constantly sniff out danger. Varane has formed a stellar partnership at the back with Sergio Ramos, providing the foundations from which Zidane has been able to build upon.

Raphael VaraneRaphael Varane
Varane’s presence at the back will be missed against Athletic Club | David Ramos/Getty Images

As a result, the loss of both players will come as a major blow to Zidane – but it provides an opportunity for other squad members to step up and play a key role in taking another step towards the league title.

Militao will come into the side at the back to partner Ramos, and he will have a point to prove. The Brazilian replaced Varane after he came off in the last game and while he initially looked calm and composed, he struggled in the latter stages of the game.

It will be up to Ramos and those around Militao to provide him with the confidence he needs to settle and perform his duties to the best of his ability. Picking up all three points against Athletic Club will be crucial, but Real have shown time and time again this season that it is their defensive solidity which has provided them with the right platform they need to go on and claim all three points.

Nemanja Maksimovic, Eder MilitaoNemanja Maksimovic, Eder Militao
Militao is expected to start on Sunday | Angel Martinez/Getty Images

In attack, Isco and Vinicius Junior struggled to get involved against Getafe, despite the fact the hosts dominated possession. Los Blancos were missing Hazard’s ability to create a yard of space for himself and either supply a fellow forward or go for goal himself – but Real found a way to win.

It, of course, isn’t ideal for Zidane, but all title-winning teams are required to use their squad depth throughout a season. And the Frenchman will be looking to the likes of Rodrygo, Isco and Vinicius to step up and deliver in what is expected to be a very tough game against Athletic Club.

This is a team who have beaten Barcelona at home this season, while they have also held Atletico Madrid at their ground. They come into the game in good form as well and will be looking to pick up a positive result as they look to finish the 2019/20 season strongly.

But Real Madrid have more than enough quality to pick up all three points. In the latest – and perhaps the fiercest – test of their title credentials, Zidane’s men will have to handle the pressure, the opposition as well as the loss of two star players, if they wish to move seven points clear at the top ahead of Barcelona’s match.

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