Athletic Club will officially begin their season on Thursday when they travel to Romania to take on Dinamo Bucuresti in the first leg of their Europa League qualifier. It will be Athletic’s first trip back to Bucharest since losing the Europa League final back in 2012 so the players are as motivated as ever. Kuko Ziganda and company will be hoping for a strong start the new year and know that they need to bring a great result back to the San Mames the following week.
When the Lions kick off their season in Romania, they will do so after a very short preseason. Ziganda’s team has been training for less than one month, but feel that they are ready to begin playing competitive games. The new manager has tested several new player combinations and system adjustments which will be quite interesting to watch on Thursday. Additionally, the team is in good spirits following some big victories this summer and players have been very vocal about feeling great under the new training staff. Still, Dinamo will be no easy opponent.
Ziganda has called up 20 players for the trip, including all three goalkeepers. Kike Sola, Asier Villalibre, Unai Lopez, and Unai Nunez were all left behind, while Iñaki Williams is also missing out due to just returning from summer vacation. Ander Iturraspe has been ruled out as well due to suspension for being sent off against APOEL last season. Still, Ziganda is going to be able to field a very strong lineup. He has been testing a midfield duo of Beñat and Mikel Vesga which is expected to start on Thursday with Mikel San Jose filling in for Yeray in defense. The goal is to foster additional creativity to form a more dynamic midfield unit.
Dinamo Bucuresti have already begun their season and have played in two league matches. They were able to win their first game 3-0 against Juventus Bucuresti, but fell 1-0 to Botosani just a few days ago. So far the team has utilized the same lineup, which is comprised of a 4-2-3-1 with a very attacking wing presence. Target man Adam Nemec leads the attack, while Rivaldinho plays in just behind. The two have shown the ability to move in and out of each other to create a dangerous threat in front of goal.
The Romanians are a physical team that aren’t going to give anything easy. Their defense is strong and their holding midfielders are capable of causing real problems for opponents. Athletic’s ability to create chances will definitely be tested and players like Beñat and Iker Muniain will have to pop up with a bit of individual magic at times. Not having Iñaki on the pitch will prove difficult, but the hope is that Markel Susaeta will be able to play a major role with his crossing ability. Still, the more scoring threats on the field the better in this case.
There will be a few tactical battles to watch as well, with Oscar De Marcos vs Diogo Solomao being the most entertaining. Solomao just recently joined Dinamo from Mallorca and has a knack for being a deadly winger. He may not score a ton of goals, but his dribbling ability and presence on the wing can cause havoc at times. De Marcos loves to push forward and join the attack but he will need to be careful not to get caught at the wrong time. Timing his runs will be absolutely vital. Rivaldinho against Mikel Vesga will also be a tight one to follow. Vesga is not as strong defensively as someone like Mikel San Jose so it will be interesting to see how he deals with the Brazilian starlet.
Dinamo was one of the strongest opponents that Athletic could have drawn for this round and they know it. The game is not going to be easy and taking an advantage home next week may be extremely difficult. Ziganda has been preparing his team all month for this game so fans should be in for a treat, but now the games start to count. The Romanians will have their fans behind them, but the Lions also have a lot to play for. The last time they were in the city their hearts were broken and they are determined not to let that happen again.
Athletic Club Probable XI: Iago Herrerin, Oscar De Marcos, Mikel San Jose, Aymeric Laporte, Mikel Balenziaga, Beñat, Mikel Vesga, Iker Muniain, Raul Garcia, Markel Susaeta, Aritz Aduriz