Previewing Athletic Club vs Leganés
The wait is finally over. Athletic Club will begin their La Liga campaign on Monday at 22:00 when they host Leganés at the San Mamés. The arrival of Eduardo Berizzo has brought excitement back to the Athletic fans who are looking forward to seeing the return of attacking football at the San Mamés. Leganés will not be an easy opponent, but the Lions are looking to take all three points to start the year.
Athletic will look a lot different this year after undergoing a summer of changes. Along with the hiring of Eduardo Berizzo, the Lions will also have several new faces. Yuri Berchiche, Dani García, Ander Capa, and Cristian Ganea were all signed over the summer and others such as Unai López has returned from a successful loan spell. Meanwhile, young stars like Peru Nolaskoain, Oihan Sancet, and Gorka Guruzeta could make their first team debuts.
Like Athletic, Leganés have gone through changes as well. Manager Asier Garitano left the club to become the manager of Real Sociedad and was replaced by Mauricio Pellegrino. Interestingly, Pellegrino has ties to Marcelo Bielsa just like Athletic’s Berizzo. The Argentine was coached by El Loco while playing for Velez Sarsfield in 1997-1998. He brings a defensive style of play to Leganés and will look to create chances through counterattacking.
If history is any indication this match will be a difficult one. Athletic and Leganés have met each other only four times with both sides winning once and the other two games ending in draws. Most recently Athletic hosted their rivals back March and were able to come away with a 2-0 win thanks to a brace by Raúl García. The San Mamés wasn’t the same fortress that it usually is last year, but Berizzo aims to fix that this season.
Athletic will be without two key players in Iñigo Martinez and Iago Herrerín. The former has only recently returned from a calf strain that saw him miss all of the preseason and Berizzo does not want to risk him so quickly. Meanwhile, Herrerín suffered a biceps injury and is hoping to return in early October. With Kepa Arrizabalaga having left the club to join Chelsea earlier this summer, Alex Remiro was set to start in goal for the Lions but due to a lingering contract dispute he was also left out of the team. Unai Simón will make his debut and Hodei Oleaga will act as the backup goalkeeper.
In his pregame press conference Berizzo made it a point to highlight the importance of a patient attack against Leganés. His system requires Athletic to press with intensity, dominate possession, and attack in numbers. In recent friendlies the Basques have struggled at times against counterattacks and that will be the concern against Pellegrino’s side who excel in that area. Being patient in the final third could be the difference between a strong win and being exposed at the back.
Monday’s clash will see some familiar faces in Bilbao. Leganés’ Javi Eraso and Unai Bustinza were both Athletic players in the past, while goalkeeper Jon Ander Serantes is a Lezama graduate who never made it to the first team. Mikel Vesga is also spending the year with Leganés, but is unable to play against the Lions due to a stipulation in the loan agreement.
When it comes to positional battles on the pitch it is vitally important for Athletic to control the midfield and that responsibility will fall to Dani García. With the team focused on attacking in numbers García will be tasked with protecting the back line and being the anchor in the middle of the pitch. If the Basques are able to limit turnovers and put the pressure on Leganés in the final third they should be able to come away with a victory. Playing at the San Mamés will give Athletic a big advantage, but this match will certainly be difficult.
Projected Athletic Club XI: Unai Simón, Oscar De Marcos, Unai Nuñez, Yeray, Yuri Berchiche, Dani García, Iker Muniain, Unai López, Iñaki Williams, Aritz Aduriz, Markel Susaeta