Saturday’s match against Alavés was Athletic Club’s last Basque Derby of the season. It hasn’t been a good year for the Lions and fans have been ready for the summer for a few months now. With only two games left on the calendar and Kuko Ziganda not contining as manager when the season ends, there was hope that the team would finish strong to give the fans something to be excited about. That did not happen at the Mendizorrotza where Athletic fell 3-1 to their neighbors despite looking like the better team throughout the game.
Being a Basque Derby, there were moments where tempers flared and both sets of players were not afraid to make a strong tackle. Five Athletic players were booked, which will effectively end the season for three of them. Iñigo Martinez, Mikel San José, and Enric Saborit picked up yellow cards that will see them serve suspensions in the final game of the year which will take place against Espanyol on Sunday at the San Mamés. There is always a chance that they could have those bookings rescinded, but that is highly unlikely.
Iñigo Martinez has played a major role in the team since joining in January so replacing him will not be easy. Yeray and Unai Nuñez can certainly play together in defense, but both are more comfortable on the right side. Xabi Etxeita could fill in for Martinez as he has done a few times this season, but that remains to be seen. Meanwhile, Saborit has been starting in place of Mikel Balenziaga who recently suffered a hamstring injury. If Balenziaga is unable to recover before Sunday’s game it will be up to Iñigo Lekue to start at left-back unless Ziganda chooses to use someone from Lezama.
Lastly, replacing Mikel San José will be interesting. He has been in and out of the lineup this season, but Mikel Rico picked up a muscle injury against Alavés and will most likely miss the final game against Espanyol as well. That leaves Beñat, Ander Iturraspe, and Mikel Vesga as the only midfield options for Ziganda to choose from. At this point there really isn’t anything left to play for other than pride, but the Lions want to finish the season with a win at home before going on summer break.