Athletic Club host La Liga rivals Las Palmas on Friday in the San Mames in what will be a very tight match. Throughout history these two clubs have played to many stalemates, but both desperately need all three points this weekend. A win could see Athletic climb as high as 6th in the league table, while a loss could see them drop all the way to 8th. With seven games remaining, every week is a final.
On Friday Athletic will return to the San Mames which has been a fortress this season. The Lions will need to continue their fine run at home against Las Palmas who has proven that they can cause a lot of chaos to even the best teams in La Liga. Ernesto Valverde’s side is currently tied for 7th place in the league table and desperately need to take all three points if they want to continue their pursuit of European qualification. The statistics say any game at the San Mames should go in their favor, but that isn’t something you can guarantee.
Athletic comes into this match with a sour taste in their mouth. After a two game winning streak, the Lions lost to Villarreal last week which saw them drop out of the top six. Now their backs are against the wall and every game has become a final. Dropping a single point could be the difference between playing in Europe next season and missing out completely. Luckily, the entire squad is still healthy and available to Ernesto Valverde.
Meanwhile, Las Palmas will enter the San Mames will their heads held high. After losing two straight matches, Quique Setien’s team beat Real Betis last week by the score of 4-1. It was a complete demolishing that will have the players confident and believing that they can conquer the Lion’s Den. However, they will be without some key pieces. Jese and Kevin Prince Boateng will both miss the match, which severely limits their attacking options. The duo has scored 12 goals together this season and are always dangerous. Las Palmas will have to find other goal scoring options.
Matches between these two clubs have been tight over the years. Four of the last six meetings have ended in a draw, with Las Palmas winning earlier this year by the score of 3-1. Athletic hasn’t beaten Las Palmas since March of 2002, but that also has a lot to do with their absence from the Primera. Since returning to the top flight, Las Palmas has been dangerous team.
As is usually the case, this game will come down to a few key tactical battles. With Jese and Boateng absent, Athletic will have to stop Jonathan Viera. The midfielder has scored 7 goals this season and has a knack for creating something out of nothing. Mikel San Jose will be looking to neutralize him in the middle of the park which will go a long way to slowing down the Las Palmas attack. If Viera is able to get the better of San Jose, Yeray and Aymeric Laporte could have a difficult night ahead of them.
On the other end, Raul Garcia will be doing battle with Roque Mesa. Mesa has been one of the strongest defensive midfielders in Spain this season and is capable of completely taking someone out of the game. Garcia will be the one facing him directly and the Lions cannot afford for their midfielder to go missing. Garcia’s energy and work rate is invaluable and that will certainly be needed on Friday. Luckily for Athletic, Mesa has struggled at times against really physical players and Raul Garcia definitely fits that bill.
Lastly, and possibly most important, will be Athletic’s left wing against the Las Palmas defense. Iker Muniain is always capable of flashing his dribbling ability which can turn into scoring chances for other players. Las Palmas right-back Michel Macedo and right-winger Tana has been known to slack off defensively and Muniain could take serious advantage of that. With Inaki Williams and Oscar De Marcos demanding attention on the other side of the pitch, Las Palmas may have very little help to offer in stopping Muniain.
Due to Athletic’s strength at home and the fact that Las Palmas will be without two key players, the Lions are the favorites on paper. Their ability to dominate the aerial game could prove huge in this meeting, but they cannot take anything for granted. Expect Athletic to use heavy wing play and crosses into the box with Aritz Aduriz and Raul Garcia looking for space in the area. This match is far from a sure thing, but the Lions desperately need all three points.
Projected Athletic Club XI: Kepa Arrizabalaga, Oscar de Marcos, Yeray, Aymeric Laporte, Mikel Balenziaga, Mikel San Jose, Benat, Inaki Williams, Raul Garcia, Iker Muniain, Aritz Aduriz