Athletic Club’s preseason schedule continues on Friday when they will travel to Belgium to take on Club Brugge in what promises to be an entertaining affair. The Lions have less than a week to finish preparing for their third round Europa League qualifier so every match is vitally important. The Belgians are a well-known European club will provide a strong test for the Basques who are expected to treat the match as a tune-up game.
Athletic comes into the game in good spirits following their trip to Switzerland for the Festival of the Alps. After losing 3-2 to Basel while down a man, the Lions went on to beat Sion 2-0 and play a scoreless draw against Fenerbahce. Cuco Ziganda’s side looked very good and the players were relatively outspoken about the fact that they feel ready for the new year to begin. Going into Friday’s game there is plenty of energy and excitement around the city of Bilbao.
With the Lions playing Real Valladolid the very next day, it was important to balance out minutes for everyone. Because of this, Ziganda only called up 18 players with four of those being standout starlets from Bilbao Athletic. Players such as Mikel San Jose, Ager Aketxe, Unai Nunez, and Inigo Cordoba all missed out on the call, as did Alex Remiro and Javi Eraso who are expected to leave the club this summer in order to trim down the squad. Still, Ziganda will be able to field a very strong lineup while also giving youth players the chance to show themselves.
Friday’s match will be just as important for Club Brugge as it will be for Athletic. The Belgians are set to take on Istanbul Basaksehir next week in the third round qualifier for the Champions League. They are hopeful of making it to this year’s group stage of the tournament and proving that they are a European giant. They will certainly not be an easy opponent for the Basques and will force Ziganda’s side into a difficult game. Due to the upcoming calendar, this friendly has all the markings of a competitive meeting and it could serve to show just where Athletic stands in preparing for next week.
Due to the complexity in calling up players for the game it is tough to predict who will start. That being said, Ziganda may choose to field his strongest lineup and give them move than just one half to show what they are capable of. It will be interesting to see if Beñat and Mikel Vesga continue their partnership, among other nuances in the new system. The players have said on multiple occasions that they are excited to start the new season and Friday’s match will give them the opportunity to show just how prepared the are right now.
Athletic Club Projected XI: Iago Herrerin, Oscar De Marcos, Xabi Etxeita, Aymeric Laporte, Mikel Balenziaga, Beñat, Mikel Vesga, Iker Muniain, Raúl Garcia, Markel Susaeta, Aritz Aduriz