Athletic Club 1-3 Levante: Another Disappointing Night At The San Mamés
Athletic Club were looking to move to within five points of European qualification when they hosted Levante on Monday night at the San Mamés. From the start it was clear that it was going to be a difficult match with the visitors desperate for points in order to continue their battle against relegation. The Lions started strong and enjoyed the bulk of possession, while Levante elected to hit on the counter to utilize their speed and the space on the field. Both sides traded blows back and forth but it would be the Basques who struck first.
Just eight minutes into the game Mikel San José dribbled past a defender and looked to put a shot on goal. It was blocked and fell to Raúl García about well outside the box. The midfielder immediately blasted an effort at goal from about 30 meters out the rippled the top left corner and put the Lions ahead 1-0. It was truly a Golazo and even García’s teammates were stunned at the effort. The San Mamés was roaring, but Levante refused to let it get to them. They continue to attack on the counter and put together a few chances that Kepa Arrizabalaga and Iñigo Martinez needed to bail out.
Roughly ten minutes later Athletic began to take back control of the game. The possessed the ball and tried to find ways to cut through the opposing defense. Levante held strong and did not give up anything easy. As the half was drawing to a close the visitors were awarded a free kick on the left corner of the box that would turn out to be a game changer. Enis Bardhi stepped up and curled an effort into the near post. Kepa was able to get a hand on the ball and knock it back into the field, but not before it had crossed the line to level the score.
Two minutes later Levante were awarded another free kick in nearly the exact same spot. Kepa altered his wall and stood ready for the kick. This time Bardhi bent his effort over the wall and into the near post once again. Kepa could do nothing but stand and watch as Levante took a 2-1 lead and the halftime whistle blew. Athletic had been the better side in the first half, but Bardhi’s magic had the visitors ahead and the San Mamés silenced.
In the second half Athletic knew they needed to go on the offensive. The Lions began to push farther into Levante’s final third and were able to string some chances together. Raúl García had two chances from headers but was unable to put them on target, as did Iñaki Williams. As time wore on, Ziganda brought on Iker Muniain, Sabin Merino, and Mikel Rico while taking off more defensive players like Ander Iturraspe and Mikel Balenziaga. It was all or nothing for the Basques.
As the game neared the final minutes José Morales would break on the counter and managed to turn Unai Nuñez around and the defender fell to the ground. Two defenders tried to cut off the Levante forward but were unable to do so as he got into the box and beat Kepa from close range to make it 3-1. In stoppage time Córdoba hit the post and Muniain was kicked in the head in the box to earn a free kick, but the Lions could not mount a comeback as the final whistle soon blew. The San Mamés roared, but not in joy. The fans were upset with yet another poor showing at home.