There may not have been much left to play for going into Saturday’s Basque Derby against Alavés, but pride was still up for grabs and that meant that is was going to be an important match for Athletic Club. Kuko Ziganda chose to used three center-backs once again after a dominant performance against Real Betis and it looked to be the right decision. From the beginning of the game the Lions were able to create width on the wings which helped them control possession and kept Alavés chasing the ball.
Oscar De Marcos and Iñaki Williams linked up several times to cause problems for their hosts, but the final ball was missing. Throughout the first half Iñaki hit the crossbar, Aritz Aduriz forced the keeper to make a diving save, and Mikel Rico nearly took the lead. All three chances were created by De Marcos. Still, the visitors were unable to find the back of the net and Alavés continued to look for their chances on the counter attack. Having three defenders at the back was certainly useful as Iñigo Martinez and Yeray were able to cut out a few attacks before anything could materialize.
As the game progressed, tempers started to flare. Alavés’s Manu Garcia had a few questionable challenges on Aritz Aduriz and Beñat who were visible bothered by it. Beñat and Enric Saborit both responded with hard tackles on Garcia and were shown yellow cards. Despite being the better side in the first half, Athletic would find themselves down 1-0 right before the break through a truly strange goal. Kepa Arrizabalaga attempted to clear the ball or make a pass wide, it is difficult to tell, and the ball struck Guideti and went right into the back of the net. The keeper patted his chest and took the blame for the goal and the Lions were left with a lot of work to do in the second half to turn things around.
Coming out in the second half it was clear that the Lions meant business. Ziganda’s men turned up the pressure and were looking to equalize as quickly as possible, but fate would not favor them. Close to the hour mark Yeray would be questionably called for a foul just outside the box and booked. Munir stepped up to take the free kick and was able to bend his shot over the wall and into the top corner just out of reach of Kepa Arrizabalaga. The Lions were now down 2-0 and Alavés were able to drop even deeper into defense.
Despite being able to just sit back and kill off the game, Alavés didn’t take their foot off the gas. Eventually they would find a third goal when a cross was sent into the box and Athletic were unable to clear. It fell to Ibai Gómez who volleyed it past Kepa from close range and the game looked done and dusted. The Lions refused to roll over and kept looking for a way back into the game. They would finally pull a goal back in the 80th minute when a corner kick fell to Iker Muniain at the far post. The Captain settled the ball off of his chest and slotted the ball into the back of the net to make it 3-1.
Despite creating a few good chances at the end of the game, Athletic were unable to fight their way back into the match. The final whistle blew with the Lions having lost 3-1 in yet another disappointing performance. Athletic have one more game left under the leadership of Kuko Ziganda and fans will be glad to see the season finally come to an end. To finish the campaign, the Basques will host Espanyol next Sunday at the San Mamés.