As the anticipation mounts for this Saturday’s clash between Athletic Bilbao and Real Madrid, one glaring weakness in the Basque side’s armor has caught the Real Madrid eye – the makeshift and somewhat inexperienced center-back duo of Dani Vivian and Aitor Paredes.
At the tender ages of 24 and 23, respectively, Vivian and Paredes find themselves thrust into the demanding cauldron of San Mames with Real Madrid as their first league opponent for the new season. In terms of minutes played in La Liga, Paredes is lacking big match experience. The 23-year-old was on the bench for most of last season and played just 850 minutes in the league. The duo has not had much time to form a partnership, with their last game against Real Madrid resulting in a 2-0 loss. Both Paredes and Vivian were the starters at center back on that night. In fact, Paredes played just nine 90-minute matches last season, and Athletic Bilbao went on to lose six of those nine matches.
The absence of Yeray Alvarez due to injury has forced Ernesto Valverde’s hand and pushed Paredes into the XI. Yeray’s experience and leadership were pivotal last season, and his absence will be felt. Moreover, the departure of Ignio Martinez on a free transfer to FC Barcelona has dealt a double blow. Martinez’s astute positioning and aerial prowess added a layer of solidity to Bilbao’s backline. Both were starters for the club when fit.
Real Madrid will look to exploit these vulnerabilities. If the diamond is the formation of choice, direct running and central off-ball movement from the likes of Bellingham, Rodrygo, and Vinicius Junior could cause countless headaches for Vivian and Paredes. The dynamism and experience of the Real Madrid’s attack could be the decisive factor against Athletic Bilbao’s untested center-back pair.