Previewing Athletic Club vs Atletico Madrid
Athletic Club will be looking to get back to their winning ways on Wednesday when they will be hosting Atletico Madrid at the San Mamés. Kuko Ziganda’s side has been in fine form to start the season, but suffered their first defeat over the weekend. The players have been very open about their desire to rebound from the loss but will be up against a stiff opponent in Atletico. With key players back in the starting lineup and the San Mamés behind them, the Basque giants could take some vital points off of a very difficult rival.
After suffering their first loss of the season over the weekend, Athletic Club is looking to right the ship and get back to their strong start. The Lions may have allowed their first goal in La Liga play against Las Palmas, but their defense has been a driving force behind their success so far this year. That defensive unit will be put the test on Wednesday when they welcome Atletico Madrid to the San Mamés for the club’s fifth match of the La Liga season. A win would see Kuko Ziganda’s side continue to climb towards the top of the table, but a loss could see them fall out of the top six.
Meanwhile, Atletico Madrid currently sit one spot ahead of Athletic in the table with eight points from four games. While that may look very good, Diego Simeone’s side has not been at their best so far this season. After a opening day draw against newly promoted Girona, the Madrid side bounced back for a blistering 5-1 win over Las Palmas. Since then they played two straight scoreless draws against Valencia and Roma (in the Champions League) before narrowly defeating Malaga 1-0 over the weekend. It is clear that Atletico is not at their best at the moment, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t extremely dangerous.
Athletic will be without Oscar De Marcos and Mikel Rico, both of whom are currently nursing ankle injuries. Of course, Yeray still hasn’t returned to training but Kuko Ziganda should have everyone else available despite it being a short turnaround from Sunday’s match. Several key players did not start against Las Palmas in preparation for this game and should be back in the lineup. Aritz Aduriz, Beñat, and Iker Muniain are expected to be back in the team and will be hoping to play big roles in what will be a huge game for the Basque giants.
History doesn’t bode well for Athletic going into this game. Last year the Lions were able to earn a 2-2 draw at home against Atletico, but the Colchoneros did win all of the previous five meetings at the San Mamés. In fact, Athletic haven’t beaten Atletico in a competitive match since January of 2013. Additionally, striker Antoine Griezmann has an exceptional scoring record against the Basques and is expected to be in the starting lineup on Wednesday. Under new manager Kuko Ziganda the Basques have been able to bulk some of their former trends and fans will be hoping that happens once again with this strong rival coming to town.
Tactically speaking, this is going to be a defensive battle between the two sides. Over the past few years Atletico Madrid has been, arguably, the strongest defensive team on the planet. While that may not quite be the case right now, their backline is absolutely solid. At the same time, Athletic have earned six clean sheets already this year with defense being their new focal point under Ziganda. The Lions have proven that they can stall strong attacks and will need to do just that if they are going to get a good result against Atletico.
With defense being such a focal point for both teams, this game will likely be won in the middle of the pitch. Whichever side is able to control possession and dominate the middle of the park will likely win and that means that Athletic will need Beñat and Mikel San José to be at their very best. San José has done an incredible job this year at protecting the backline while Beñat creates and if the pair can control the game the Lions will have a much better chance of winning on Wednesday.
When taking a clear look at this meeting, Atletico Madrid should walk away with a win. They have a stronger team on paper and have had an extra day to prepare. That being said, the San Mamés is a fortress and you never know what is going to happen in front of the Athleticzales. If Athletic is able to walk away with at least one point this will be seen as victory for the Lions and will give them the chance to regroup and get ready for the next game. Regardless of the outcome, Kuko Ziganda’s team is hungry and this matches promises fireworks.
Projected Athletic Club XI: Kepa Arrizabalaga, Iñigo Lekue, Xabi Etxeita, Aymeric Laporte, Mikel Balenziaga, Beñat, Mikel San José, Iker Muniain, Raúl García, Iñaki Williams, Aritz Aduriz