Athletic Club hosted Las Palmas at the San Mames on Friday in a game that promised energy and a possible tight finish. However, the Lions were in fine form and saw off their visitors by the score of 5-1 to move to within one point of Villarreal who currently hold the 5th place spot in the La Liga table. Aritz Aduriz and Iker Muniain both had a brace in the match which turned out to be one of the best performances of the season.
From the very start this match was fully of excitement and energy. Both sides were looking to push the ball forward and pressing high up the pitch. With such a crazy start to the game, it didn’t take long for the San Mames to see its first goal of the night. After just seven minutes of play, Athletic Club would strike first when Mikel San Jose headed in a corner that brought the Cathedral to its feet.
After going up early, Las Palmas got frustrated but were clearly trying to back level quickly. However, their risky play would cost them dearly. Just two minutes after conceding from the corner, the visitors committed a foul just outside the box. With Benat on the bench, Iker Muniain stepped up and sent the his shot low and around the wall to beat the keeper and double the lead for the Lions. Las Palmas was in disbelief, but not ready to throw in the towel with only 10 minutes played.
Las Palmas’ refusal to give in so early proved vital. Three minutes after going down 2-0, a header from Pedro Bigas pulled a goal back and silenced the crowd. The energetic start to the game had the feel of a back and forth game and that is exactly what Athletic didn’t need to fall in to. The following minutes peaked and then began to die down. Just when it looked like the game would find some calm, Athletic would score again. A great run down the wing by Inaki Williams was the difference maker. He got into open space and played a pass to Aritz Aduriz who was waiting in the box. Aduriz collided with the keeper but had the composure to find the ball bouncing near the goal and, from his knees, was able to extend his leg and make it 3-1 for the home side.
At this point the game actually did slow down. Athletic was more than happy to control possession and not take any unnecessary chances. Las Palmas continued to try to break on the counter, but the Lions defended well and didn’t give away possession in dangerous areas. Whenever the visitors were able to get the ball, the home side swarmed to win it back and calm things down again. At halftime the score remained 3-1, but the match felt far from over.
Las Palmas made changes early in the second half, trying to add a new dimension as they sought to get back into the game. Athletic did well to deal with their attacking line, but never stopped pressing high up the field. Eventually, the Lions would add a fourth goal through one of the best goals of the season. A cross was sent into the box and was headed across the face of the goal. The visitors kept trying to clear the ball and it eventually fell to Iker Muniain who was racing into the area. The winger blasted an effort at goal that beat the keeper at the near post.
With an nearly an hour gone the game was over. Fans at the San Mames were doing the wave and signing. It was clear that Las Palmas were not going to get back into the match and Athletic took advantage of their fallen spirits just one minute later to score a last goal for good measure. Raul Garcia was able to win the ball in the final third with most of Las Palmas’ players further up the field. Mikel San Jose took the ball into the box and played a pass over to Aduriz who calmly beat the keeper to make it 5-1.
The last 30 minutes was filled with very little action. The Lions knew they had won the game and did not want to force anything or take unnecessary risks. Fans of both clubs began to cheer on players as they were substituted off and the final whistle finally blew after two added minutes. It was a massive 5-1 victory for Athletic Club and they could have had even more goals.
This win saw Athletic move to 6th in the La Liga table with every other club still to play this weekend. The Lions are now one point off of Villarreal and could still make a difficult push for the Champions League. Athletic Club will be back in action on 24 April when they travel to Ipurua to take on Eibar in yet another Basque Derby. They are undefeated this season in Basque Derbies and that will need to continue if they want to finish in the top six.
Athletic Club XI: Kepa Arrizabalaga, Oscar De Marcos, Yeray, Aymeric Laporte, Mikel Balenziaga (Inigo Lekue 52′), Mikel San Jose (Benat 75′), Ander Iturraspe, Inaki Williams (Markel Susaeta 79′), Raul Garcia, Iker Muniain, Aritz Aduriz