Athletic Club had a perfect chance to jump Villarreal for 5th in the league table when they traveled to Estadio De La Ceramica on Friday. However, things did not go their way when the Yellow Submarine cruised to a 3-1 victory. It was Athletic’s third match in one week which could have had something to do with the poor performance and they now find themselves 4 points off their La Liga rivals.
The match began with both sides playing cautious and just trying to feel each other out. Villarreal elected to attack down the wings, while Athletic were comfortable building play through the center of the pitch. Neither side had any real chance on goal in the first 15 minutes, but that wouldn’t take long to change. After some beautiful work in the box from Samu Castillejo, a shot was put on the Athletic goal. Yeray tried to clear it and put it off the post, but the rebound was scored by Victor Ruiz to give the hosts a 1-0 lead.
From that point it looked like Athletic would be fighting to claw their way back into the game for a while. Thankfully, it wouldn’t take long for the Lions to answer. A corner kick from Benat skipped through to Aymeric Laporte who was all alone on the far side of the box. The center-back side-footed his shot inside the near post to the make it 1-1 and it was game on in Estadio De La Ceramica.
Villarreal remained the more dangerous team by streaking down the wing, lead by the pace of Castillejo. The youngster was not able to finish the match, however, after picking up an injury and was replaced by Adrian before the half. The whistle followed soon with the score level at 1-1 and both sides looking to break the deadlock in the second half.
It looked like Ernesto Valverde might make a change after half. The Lions were desperately missing creativity in the midfield, but in the end no changes were made. The two sides came out for the second half and it only took a few minutes for someone to take the lead. A wonderful pass from Bruno split the Athletic defense and sent Bakambu in alone on goal. Yeray tried to run him down but was unable to do so and the striker put the ball into the far corner to put the host back up 2-1.
Ten minutes later, with Iker Muniain and Ander Iturraspe waiting to come on, Villarreal would add a third goal. A free kick was whipped to the far corner and headed back across the face of the goal. Adrian nodded it home and the Yellow Submarine was now causing. From there, Athletic Club turned up the pressure and were desperate to pull a goal back in hopes of eventually playing to a draw.
Athletic’s efforts were aided when Victor Ruiz was sent off for a nasty tackle on Inaki Williams. The Lions began to push even harder to take advantage of the extra man, but in the end it would come to no avail. Mikel San Jose and Oscar De Marcos had chances in front of goal that weren’t finished, while Aritz Aduriz hit the crossbar twice. It just wasn’t Athletic’s day and the final whistle ended the game at 3-1 in favor of Villarreal.
The loss put a four point gap between Villarreal and Athletic Club for 5th in the La Liga table. Depending on Real Sociedad’s result, Athletic could fall to as low as 7th. There are 7 games left in the calendar and plenty of time for the Lions to finish higher in the table, but they cannot afford to drop back any further. They will back in action on 14 April when they host Las Palmas at the San Mames.