Athletic Club continued their amazing run at the San Mames on Thursday night when they defeated challengers Real Betis by the score of 2-1. Goals from Aritz Aduriz and Iker Muniain lifted the Lions in a tight match that had some late drama thanks to a striker from Ruben Castro. In the end, the three points saw the Basques move back into the top 6 in the La Liga table with only four games remaining in the calendar.
From the opening whistle it was clear that Real Betis was going to try and keep the game compact. They refused to let Athletic get the ball out wide and use space, forcing the home side to play through the middle of the pitch. As time passed, the Lions became more and more in control of the action, but the Betis defense did well to cut off chances. The visitors would get an odd counter attack, but they looked rather comfortable just sitting back and forcing their hosts to bring the ball to them.
After 20 minutes of play, Athletic would get the first real chance of the game. A bad clearance from Antonio Adan fell to Aritz Aduriz. The striker found himself alone in front of the keeper and tried to dribble around him, but Adan was able to get a hand to the ball to keep Aduriz from giving his side an early 1-0 lead. The San Mames was in disbelief, but it felt that goals would eventually come if they continued to create chances. Minutes later, Oscar De Marcos was played into the box but his shot hit the post and was cleared away.
As the first half drew to a close it was Adan who continued to keep Athletic off the score sheet. The keeper was always quick to leave his line and stopped any dangerous chances before they could materialize. The whistle finally came with the Lions frustrated not to be ahead after a strong first half. There was fear that it wasn’t going to be their night, but the second half would open up for both sides.
The second half began with Athletic Club forcing the pace of play and really getting the ball out wide when attacking. Markel Susaeta and Oscar De Marcos did well to force the Betis defenders out of position and it began to lead to chances. After 55 minutes of play the deadlock would be broke when Benat played Aduriz through on goal. The striker would be taken out from behind in the box and was awarded a penalty. Aduriz stepped up to the spot and calmly put his effort past the Betis keeper to make it 1-0.
That goal really seemed to take the air out of the visitors and the Lions were ready to pounce and put the game away. Seven minutes later they would double the lead. Iker Muniain beat three defenders before sliding a pass wide to Susaeta. The winger crossed the ball in to Raul Garcia who did not have an angle to put a shot on goal. Instead, he found Muniain darting into the box and gifted him a header to make the game 2-0. With over an hour played the game looked done and dusted, but Betis would not go down without a fight.
Three minutes after Muniain doubled the lead, Betis would answer back. A long shot was put on Kepa Arrizabalaga who did well to parry the chance away. However, the rebound fell right to Ruben Castro who immediately tapped the ball into the back of the net to make it 2-1. That goal marked the fourth straight La Liga game that Castro had scored against Athletic Club. Only one goal down and feeling the momentum, Real Betis would go on the offensive for the majority of the rest of the half. Athletic’s defense was pressed back into their own half for the final 10 minutes and great tackles from Aymeric Laporte and Yeray saw the Lions see out the 2-1 win and pick up a valuable three points.
Athletic’s victory meant that they would go back in front of Real Sociedad for sixth place in the league table, and only a single point off of Villarreal for fifth place. The Lions will now travel to take on Celta Vigo on Sunday afternoon in a match that will be anything but easy. It will be the Basques’ third game of the week so it is likely that there will be lineup changes. With only four games remaining in the calendar, every point is vital now.
Athletic Club XI: Kepa Arrizabalaga, Oscar De Marcos, Yeray, Aymeric Laporte, Mikel Balenziaga, Mikel San Jose, Benat (Mikel Rico 88′), Markel Susaeta (Inaki Williams 78′), Raul Garcia (Ander Iturraspe 74′), Iker Muniain, Aritz Aduriz