Athletic Club 2-0 Real Betis: Lions Dominate At The San Mamés
Despite not having anything left to play for besides pride, Saturday’s match against Real Betis was always going to be interest for Athletic. The Lions were without Oscar De Marcos, Raúl García, and Mikel Balenziaga and that meant that manager Kuko Ziganda would have to really shake up the lineup. Most were surprised to see him go with three center-backs and two wing-backs but from the very start of the game it proved to be a brilliant decision as the Basques dominated possession and were able to press high up the field because of the security in defense.
Iñigo Lekue and Enric Saborit were able to move in between attacking and defending due to having three center-backs behind them and it allowed Athletic to really stretch the field and keep possession. Betis struggled to win the ball back and when they did they were often left without passing options as the Lions swarmed. It would still take about 20 minutes for the home side to get the first chance when Iñaki Williams ran into the box and slid a pass to Iker Muniain who couldn’t get his shot in target. Just minutes later the duo would link up again but the keeper was able to jump on the ball.
The chances were just getting started at this point. Iñaki and Mikel Rico would both hit the post in the first half from very close range which spurred the San Mamés into a roar. Aritz Aduriz would actually put the ball in the back of the net from a set piece, but the flag was raised. Just before the break the striker would have another chance when he rose to meet a cross into the box. He whipped his header at goal but it went just wide of the near post. The halftime whistle followed with Athletic in complete control but also a bit concerned about the fact that they ball just wouldn’t go in the goal.
Coming out of the break things began to slow down. Real Betis were not as risky in their attacks which slowed down Athletic’s ability to use width and spacing. Both sides traded half-chances back and forth but nothing was really coming and it began to look like a goal might never come. That was when Iker Muniain answered the call. Iñigo Lekue sent in a beautiful cross to the far post where Muniain was waiting to head the ball into the back of the net to give the Basques a much-deserved 1-0 lead.
At that point Betis knew that they needed to turn up the pressure. The visitors began to open up the game and had a few moments that gave the San Mamés true terror. Twice Kepa Arrizabalaga had to make a diving save, but he was up for the challenge. There was a bit of controversy at the end of the game when Betis scored from a corner only to have the referee wave it off due to a questionable foul call, but the score remained 1-0. Just for good measure, the Lions would put the game away in stoppage time when Iñaki sprinted to track down a loose ball, dribbled into the box and found Aritz Aduriz who calmly slotted his shot past the keeper to make it 2-0 and give Athletic the win and three points.
After a string of poor performances, fans were excited to see Athletic play so well and pull off a big win that they clearly deserved. After the game Iker Muniain revealed that he and his wife are expecting a baby girl and devoted his goal to his wife. Now, with a big win and confidence building, the Lions will turn their attention to next weekend’s Basque Derby against Alaves where pride will be on the line for both clubs. For now, the San Mamés roars with joy.