Athletic Club played their first friendly of the preseason on Wednesday when they faced off with Basel. A red card was shown to Mikel Balenziaga at the thirty minute mark which significantly changed the complexity of the game. Still, the Lions were able to put two goals past their rivals thanks to chances from Sabin Merino and Kike Sola. In the end it wasn’t enough as Basel was able to score a late header from a corner kick to win 3-2.
The match began with Athletic looking to strike quickly. Iker Muniain was very active and constantly making problems for Basel, but their physicality kept him from being able to create anything dangerous. The Lions elected to attack down the wings as usual and send in crosses, but it didn’t lead to much. Meanwhile, the midfield pairing of Benat and Mikel Vesga struggled at times while the two worked on creating a rhythm together. It didn’t take long for the Swiss giants to get into the game and they started showing signs of life down the right wing.
Right at the half hour mark would be the moment that changed the game. After a chance was headed on net, Mikel Balenziaga struck the ball with his arm and received a straight red card. The Lions were now down one man as Basel’s Delgado stepped up to take the penalty. He sent Iago Herrerin the wrong way and put his side up 1-0. Cuco Ziganda knew he needed to find an adjustment, but his side still looked strong in possession. Benat struck the post from a free kick, but the equalizer wouldn’t be far behind.
After Basel seemed to be in complete control offensively, Athletic would finally strike out of nowhere. Iker Muniain beat his defender then found Sabin Merino streaking into the box. The forward took his shot in stride and beat the keeper to pull the Lions level at 1-1. Before the halftime whistle sounded, Basel would once again cause problems with their attacking unit and Iago Herrerin was forced to make a few saves. In the end, the break came with the two sides in a deadlock.
Before the second half began Cuco Ziganda changed his entire team. Alex Remiro, Oscar De Marcos, Eneko Boveda, Xabi Etxeita, Enric Saborit, Mikel Rico, Ander Iturraspe, Inigo Cordoba, Kike Sola, and Markel Susaeta all took the field. In all of the confusion Basel struggled defensively early on and Athletic made them play. Cordoba beat his defender and sent in a cross to Kike Sola. The ball was a little behind the striker but he did well to adjust and headed the ball past the keeper to pull the Lions ahead 2-1.
As the game progressed Cordoba continued to cause issues for Basel’s defense. His pace and shiftiness was difficult to deal with and he won Athletic a handful of corner kicks. However, the Basques were unable to take advantage of it and their opponents eventually worked their way back into the match. Basel blew down the right wing taking advantage of their extra man and blasted a low shot at goal. Alex Remiro was unable to make the save the score was again level at 2-2.
The game was nearing the conclusion and it looked as though it would end in a draw. However, Basel had other plans as they kept peppering the Athletic goal. Defensive errors from Boveda and Saborit nearly led to clear chances, but the winning goal would actually come from a set piece. With only minutes remaining, the Swiss giants took the lead thanks to a header from Pululu off of a corner kick. Athletic’s marking definitely looked to be at fault and fans will be hoping to see Ziganda address the issue immediately. The final whistle came not long after with Basel having won 3-2 over Athletic who had to play a man down for over an hour.
It was very clear that the Athletic players were rusty in their first friendly of the summer. This was a great chance for the players to get loose and work on their rhythm, but the fact is that there are less than three weeks until the Lions play their Europa League qualifier on 27 July. Between now and then Cuco Ziganda will be working hard to ensure that his players are improving and ready when the season officially kicks off. Playing with one less player in a friendly match can really complicate things but this was a nice showing for the first game of the preseason.