Whites look to win their 32nd league title at San Mames
Today may be a glorious day in the history of Real Madrid as the team has a chance to win its 32nd league title with a victory over Athletic Bilbao at San Mames (22:00 CET). The venue and opponent couldn't be better for such an occasion: Athletic Bilbao have one of their most competitive squads of recent years and have reached the finals of the Copa del Rey and Europa League championships.
The Whites would also win the title today if Barcelona lose their game at Camp Nou (which starts at 20:00) or if both of them draw. Real Madrid are the best side on the road this season, losing none of their away games in 2012.
Jose Mourinho said his team will do its best to win, as always; throughout the season, Real have won 14, drawn two and lost only one of their league games on the road, scoring 46 goals and conceding only 12. They have taken 44 points away from the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.
Jose Mourinho has taken 20 players with him to Bilbao, including Castilla goalkeeper Tomas Mejias. Di Maria is suspended for the match, while Altintop, Lass and Carvalho have been dropped for coaching decisions. Last season, Real Madrid won 3-0 at San Mames with a Kaka brace and another goal from Ronaldo.
Cristiano Ronaldo (43 goals), Benzema (20) and Higuain (21) are the most successful attacking trio in the history of the Spanish league; never before had three strikers on the same team scored 20 or more points in one campaign. They have tallied 84 goals between them in La Liga and will surely look for more tonight.
Athletic are seventh on the table with 48 points, just one place away from a Europa League qualifying spot. They've qualified to play that championship's final this year, as well as that of the Copa del Rey. In the former tournament they managed to eliminate strong sides like Manchester United, Schalke 04 and Sporting Portugal.
Marcelo Bielsa is coaching his first season on the team. His side always looks to keep possession and plays touch football with fast transitions. Athletic have won eight, drawn six and lost two of their home games in La Liga this season, losing only to Valencia, Granada and Betis. Fernando Llorente is their main man in attack with 17 goals and will be a threat to watch out for, while Ander Herrera and Iturraspe are suspended for the clash.
Mourinho: "I like to play in Bilbao; we want to win there in order to be champions"
"I like to play in Bilbao. The stadium has a crowd that is passionate about football and that fervently supports its team. They are harsh on opponents. People who love football and the atmosphere of great games like to play there, and my team does. We've recently played in similar stadiums, like Camp Nou, the Calderon and the Reyno de Navarra. Athletic Bilbao play very well, but so do we. We will try to win in order to be champions, but they will do their best to defeat us and prevent us from winning the title at their stadium."
"Other sides have faced Athletic when the latter have used few regular starters, but we won't have that luck. All their main players rested in the previous game and they consider tomorrow's clash to be important. We won't be able to count on Di Maria because he is suspended, but this is normal because it is unusual for players not to have bookings at this stage of the season. Athletic have a solid squad and quality players."
"We haven't won yet, so the fact that I've won all three major European league championships is still hypothetical. We know we're close and that we'll achieve it soon, either tomorrow, on Saturday or later on. We are confident in ourselves and we'll experience great joy when we win the title. I don't think this will be my last La Liga title and I think we'll have a chance to celebrate other things in the future, but one of my personal goals indeed was to win the three major European league championships. I will be very happy if I manage to do so, and I'm sure I will."
"My team doesn't look to break records, but rather to win a competition as important as La Liga after a period in which our greatest rival has won it three consecutive times. We want to win this championship and records are always interesting and give the team greater merit, but the title is the main objective. Last season we could afford to focus on records because we weren't playing to win the title in the last three games, but whenever there is a collective objective you have to make it your priority."
"It isn't true that Zidane will leave the club. This club has a policy not to publicly deny all false reports. We are all responsible for the season we're having; everyone's done their part, be it players or equipment managers. Everyone tries to bring what they can to the table. As first team coach, and the power my responsibility gives me, I am delighted to continue with those who are working with me and I am grateful to all the players for their contributions and for all they are giving. We love them all, and the same goes for my coaching staff. I would like to say I arrived here with a family of four and now we're a family of five because Karanka is now part of it too. Karanka's future will be very simple the day I leave Real Madrid. He should remain if he wants because this is his home, but if he doesn't he will continue to work with me."
"We have to win the league title because, if we don't, this season will be dubbed as 'the one in which we came close'. The title will allow us to say we've had a great season and it will have even greater value because we will have surpassed a Barcelona side people deem worthy and deserving of much praise. This team has great room for improvement because it is very young and we will have enough time to prepare for next season and be even better once the championship ends."
"Cristiano Ronaldo's main objective is to win the league title and his second objective is to win the Ballon d'Or. The latter isn't won by the top scorer, but by the player who wins a great collective title. You cannot win the Ballon d'Or if you don't win the league title or the Champions League. I don't think Bayern Munchen or Chelsea have anyone better, so I think he'll win the Ballon d'Or if he wins the league title."
"Guardiola has decided to leave Barcelona. When we coaches are dismissed we are deserving of solidarity and praise. Guardiola's has been a personal decision and he knows what will make him happier. The important thing is that he's happy with his decision. I've been coaching for 12 years and I will miss football in June, when there will be no more games to play. I wish he enjoys his time because that's the most important thing in life. My decision to stay on as Real Madrid's coach has nothing to do with who coaches other teams. That was my challenge when I got here and Real Madrid and Barcelona go their own separate ways. I believe Barcelona have capable executives and, if they believe Vilanova is the ideal replacement for Guardiola, we respect their decision. He will be our opponent in La Liga next season. We cannot wish him luck because they are our most immediate opponent."