Athletic Club will be looking to continue their unbeaten streak in La Liga on Thursday when they travel to the Canary Islands to take on Las Palmas. The Lions are yet to surrender a single goal in their domestic campaign, but games between these two have often resulted in plenty of goals. If Kuko Ziganda’s side can earn a victory they could rise all the way to the top of the table, but for them it continues to be one game at a time.
Athletic Club are unbeaten in their first eight games this season and want to continue that great run of form. They have earned five straight clean sheets across all competitions and haven’t surrendered a goal so far in La Liga. Kuko Ziganda has his team playing very organized football with the idea of controlling the midfield, possession, and pace of play. When the Lions are able to impose their style and rhythm they are an extremely difficult team to beat. On Sunday they will be hoping to keep that going against a strong opponent.
Meanwhile, Las Palmas is starting to gain confidence after a slow start to the domestic campaign. They lost their first two matches by a combined score of 6-1, but got their first victory last weekend in the form a 3-1 thrashing over Malaga. That game looked like a turning point for the team who now seem to have found their own rhythm and will be wanting to earn their first home victory of the season. Playing at the Gran Canaria is never easy and the fans will add to the pressure this weekend.
Kuko Ziganda will still be without Oscar De Marcos, who is recovering from an ankle injury, while Mikel Rico was left out of the squad because of an ankle problem of his own. After sitting out the midweek Europa League clash with Hertha Berlin, Beñat and Ander Iturraspe are back in the squad and at least one of them should start on Sunday, perhaps both. Kepa Arrizabalaga, who missed last weekend’s game with a fever, will be back in goal and looking for his fourth consecutive clean sheet in La Liga. Mikel Balenziaga has been left behind to take a rest, while Ager Aketxe, Iñigo Córdoba, and Kike Sola were not included in the squad list either.
Las Palmas should come into this game with their strongest possible lineup, however there is still strong chance that Vitolo could miss out. Manager Manolo Márquez said that there is a possibility that the winger could be available and that they are leaving the door open for him. If not, Las Palmas will still be a strong side that will be able to create a lot of problems for the Lions. Without playing in Europe they do not have to worry about rotating players at this part of the season which plays into their favor.
Historically matches between these two have resulted in plenty of goals. The last two games featured a total of 10 goals but Sunday’s fixture could be a bit different with Athletic’s defense playing at an elite level. Since being promoted back to the Primera, Athletic hasn’t been able to beat Las Palmas at Gran Canaria. They have lost once and drawn once. Last year’s trip to the Canary Islands ended in a 3-1 loss for the Lions who also saw Aritz Aduriz sent off for picking up two yellow cards. Ziganda’s side will need to keep tempers under control if they are going to conquer Las Palmas on the road.
Tactically speaking, there are several interesting battles to keep an eye on. To begin with, Las Palmas have struggled dealing with set pieces and defending the wide areas of the field. Both of these are big parts of Athletic’s game and play a huge role in the outcome of the game. However, Manolo Márquez’s side is aggressive and can play through the middle which will test Athletic’s organization and defense. If Mikel San José starts he will likely have the most important job of anyone because the Lions cannot allow their hosts to control the pace and be free to keep possession around midfield.
One again, on paper this is a match that Athletic should be able to win. They are the stronger side and are in good form. Still, anything can happen in La Liga, especially for a team playing away from home. This will be a real test for Kuko Ziganda with a midweek game against Atletico Madrid looming and the need to rotate the lineup. So far this season the Lions haven’t had the same problems on the road as in previous years, but this match is far from a guarantee. There is not a single simple game in La Liga and Thursday will be no different.
Projected Athletic Club XI: Kepa Arrizabalaga, Eneko Bóveda, Unai Nuñez, Aymeric Laporte, Enric Saborit, Beñat, Ander Iturraspe, Iker Muniain, Raúl García, Markel Susaeta, Iñaki Williams