Athletic Club had a great chance to move into fifth place on Sunday, but Alaves had other plans. Their Basque rivals put up a strong fight at home to win 1-0, but it was Athletic’s lack of finishing that ultimately cost them the game. With only two matches remaining, Ernesto Valverde’s team has a difficult road to qualify for Europe and will need to be at their absolute best.
From the very first whistle it was Athletic Club who was in complete control of the game. The Lions dominated possession, created chances, and did well to stuff out any counter attack that their hosts could muster. Interestingly, they seemed to prefer creating through the midfield instead of getting the ball wide at every chance. Both options did create opportunities, but those didn’t turn in to goals.
The Lions got a few good chances in rapid success near the end of the first half. First, Inaki Williams flicked the ball into the box to a surging Raul Garcia. However, the pass was just a little too far and he couldn’t turn in a shot. Right afterwards, Aritz Aduriz had a beautiful header but the keeper somehow managed to get a hand to it and parry the chance away from goal. Not too long afterwards, Athletic had their best chance of the game when a pass was played in to Aduriz mere feet from the goal.
Aduriz chested down the pass and only had to tap the ball past the keeper. However, the Alaves shot-stopped pounced on the ball and kept Aduriz from putting any power on his shot. The Lions were stunned and couldn’t believe that they were not already ahead. Just after, Benat would pick up the ball outside the box and blast a shot at goal that struck the post and sailed wide. Then, on the stroke of halftime, Benat played Inaki through the defense. He had Iker Muniain alone in front of goal but tried to play a pass to Aduriz. Sadly, the pass was cleared and the chance went missing.
As the second half began it was clear that Athletic had to start finishing chances if they wanted to take all three points. They continued to dominate possession for the first ten minutes, but then something would go horribly wrong. A cleared pass fell to Theo Hernandez just inside the box. The defender volleyed a shot at goal that knuckled into the far post, beating Kepa Arrizabalaga and giving the home side a shocking 1-0 lead.
From there, it was all Athletic as the Lions tried to turn their luck around and draw level. Alaves defended deep, cut off passing lanes, and didn’t give anything easy to their rivals. Time continued to slip away, substitutions came on, but Athletic just couldn’t find the elusive equalizer. The final whistle finally sounded with Alaves having won and Athletic missing out on three very valuable points.
The loss meant that Athletic remained in sixth place, tied with Real Sociedad but ahead on tiebreaker. A win would have brought them to fifth, but that opportunity is now gone. Athletic will be back in action next weekend when they host Leganes at the San Mames. It will be a must win if they want to qualify for the Europa League once again, but it certainly won’t be easy.
Athletic Club XI: Kepa Arrizabalaga, Oscar De Marcos, Yeray, Aymeric Laporte, Mikel Balenziaga (Inigo Lekue 66′), Benat (Mikel Rico 79′), Mikel San Jose, Inaki Williams (Sabin Merino 85′), Raul Garcia, Iker Muniain, Aritz Aduriz