Athletic Club’s match against Real Betis this Saturday may turn out to be one of the most interesting games of the season for several reasons. To begin with, the Lions have nothing left to play for except for their pride. Their hopes of qualifying for Europe were crushed when they lost the Basque Derby last weekend, but they have also officially ended any concern over relegation. At the same time, Kuko Ziganda will have to make some difficult decisions with Raúl García and Oscar De Marcos unavailable due to suspension and Mikel Balenziaga out with a hamstring injury.
There have been rumors that Athletic could utilize a three-man defense with Balenziaga and De Marcos unavailable which would be comprised of Iñigo Martinez, Unai Nuñez, and Yeray. The squad has practiced with the trio together in training this week but nothing seems officially decided at this point. Meanwhile, Aritz Aduriz has finally returned to training after a two week absence with a muscle injury and could be back in the starting lineup. The biggest news is that Raúl García’s suspension could see Iker Muniain make his first start since returning from an ACL injury a few weeks ago. Clearly, Ziganda has some big choices to make.
On the other side of the pitch Real Betis have officially qualified for next season’s Europa League, but have their sights set on another prize. Next weekend they will be hosting city rivals Sevilla at the Benito Villamarín and manager Quique Setien has already made it clear that he will rest key players ahead of the derby. Goalkeeper Antonio Adan will not feature and defenders Mandi and Junior Firpo will also get the night off. With so many changes to both lineups, Saturday’s match at the San Mamés could be quite the interesting affair.
The season may almost be over, but Athletic also have another important game left that will demand attention. Next weekend the Lions will travel to face off with neighboring Alaves in the final Basque Derby of the season. Fans want Athletic to win big at the Mendizorrotza after an embarrassing loss at Anoeta and to do that they will need everyone available. That puts four players in a precarious position this weekend against Real Betis. Kepa Arrizabalaga, Mikel San José, Iñigo Martinez, and Enric Saborit are all one booking away from suspension and will have to watch themselves if they want to compete in next weekend’s Derby.