Athletic Club will be traveling to El Sadar on Saturday for their fourth Basque Derby of the season. So far, the Lions are unbeaten in these matches, but that doesn’t mean that they have been easy. Athletic currently sit 4 points off of the European zone of the La Liga table and really need a win this weekend. However, their opponents are sitting at the very bottom of the league table and are desperate for a big win in front of their own fans. A Derby match against a desperate Osasuna side means that this game could be full of fireworks.
Despite Osasuna’s disappointing form over the last few years, they have given Athletic Club a difficult time. In the first meeting of the season the two sides played to a 1-1 draw at the San Mames even though the Lions completely dominated possession and had the vast majority of chances. It was one of those games where the ball just wouldn’t go in the net. Athletic have also lost in their last two trips to El Sadar by a combined score of 5-1. In fact, the Lions haven’t won in front of the Osasuna fans since January of 2014.
Osasuna come into the game desperate and in dire need of a big win. They currently sit dead last in the La Liga table with 11 points. They are 15 points off of the safe zone in the table with only 10 games left to play. It is not a good situation at all and they have to start getting some points if they want any chance at avoiding relegation. The fact that this is a Basque Derby only makes them more dangerous. They really have nothing to lose against Athletic and that could cause a lot of problems. The fans will really be up for this one and on Friday it was announce that tickets for the game had already sold out.
The Pamplona-based side will be without midfielder Roberto Torres which will make things more difficult for them. Torres is a leader on and off the pitch and provides a unique attacking dynamic going forward. Expect play to be run through De las Cuevas as other try to step up in his place. Osasuna will also be without Miguel Flano, but Oier has done a solid job filling in for him at the back this season.
Athletic Club are right on the cusp of the European zone of the La Liga table. They currently sit 4 points off that mark, but that can easily be made up in the final 10 games of the season. Without having to worry about the Copa del Rey or the Europa League, Ernesto Valverde can put his full force into a strong final run in the domestic campaign. The Lions were playing at a solid level before the international break so they are expected to come out strong at El Sadar on Saturday.
The Lions will only be without one player. Yeray, who suffered a double fractured nose while playing for Spain U21, was not called up for the game. He was able to practice on Friday, but Valverde said in his pre-game press conference that he wanted to give the 22-year-old time to rest and not risk him with so many other games right around the corner. Eneko Boveda is expected to start beside Aymeric Laporte and the pair have played well together this year. The rest of the lineup will consist of the strongest players in the squad and is fairly straight forward.
There is an interesting tactical battle to watch in this game and it proved the difference maker in the last contest. Osasuna’s five-man defense can give opponents a lot of problems. Having so many players packed into the box does give the offense a lot of options despite having a ton of possession. This is the difficult that the Lions faced last time and just couldn’t get many clean looks at goal. In that first meeting, Alex Berenguer was the star of the show. He shut down Inaki Williams with his unrelenting work rate and caused a lot of chaos when pushing forward into attack. It will be interesting to see where he lines up in this match and what effect he has the second time around.
On paper Athletic Club is clearly the better side. However, that rarely means anything in a Derby. Osasuna have to win this game in front of their own fans so they are not going to give anything easy to their rivals. Athletic, on the other hand, could move to within one point of 5th place depending on how other matches go across La Liga. The Lions can’t wait to earn points down the road, they need to start building and putting pressure on opponents now. Saturday’s game is a must-win for them as well, especially against the weakest team in the Primera.
Will the Lions play up to the level that they are capable of showing? Will the absence of Robero Torres cost Osasuna? All questions will be answered on Saturday, but we already know one thing – this is going to be an intense football match.
Projected Athletic Club XI: Kepa Arrizabalaga, Oscar de Marcos, Eneko Boveda, Aymeric Laporte, Mikel Balenziaga, Mikel San Jose, Benat, Inaki Williams, Raul Garcia, Iker Muniain, Aritz Aduriz