Previewing Real Betis vs Athletic Club

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Athletic have been in great form to start the season (AC)

For the first time this season Athletic Club will be playing a game on the road. The Lions have already traveled to Seville and will be facing off with Real Betis on Sunday in one of the most anticipated matches of the La Liga weekend. After a strong start to the season the Basques are looking to build on their rhythm but Betis present a dangerous challenge at the Benito Villamarín.

Over the past few years Athletic have had the upper hand, having won the past three meetings by a combined score of 6-1. In fact, Real Betis haven’t beaten the Basques since December of 2016 when they won 1-0 at the Benito Villamarín thanks to a goal from Rubén Castro; and before then Athletic had won the previous two meetings as well. That being said, this is a much different Betis team than in recent years. Manager Quique Setien led the club to European qualification last season and the squad was strengthened over the summer.

Real Betis were one of the revelations of the league last year after earning a sixth place finish with Setien leading the way in his debut campaign. Over the summer they lost Fabián but were able to bring in several great signings. Sergio Canales, Takashi Inui, William Carvalho, and Sidnei were all brought into the squad while PSG midfielder Giovani Lo Celso was signed on loan in the final hours of the transfer window.

Despite the new faces and stronger squad, Betis haven’t been their best to start the season. The club has only earned won win so far this year, a 1-0 win over Sevilla at home, but have failed to even score a goal in any of their other games. They also played their first Europa League match of the season on Thursday against Olympiacos which ended in a scoreless draw in Turkey.

Meanwhile, it has been a great start for Athletic under new manager Eduardo Berizzo. The Lions have impressed with their intense, pressing style of football and are coming off of a magnificent showing against Real Madrid last weekend. Athletic have earned five points from their opening three matches and will be looking to remain unbeaten when they take on Real Betis on Sunday.

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Will Athletic win their first game away from the San Mamés? (LaLiga)

Athletic will be without star striker Aritz Aduriz who has been dealing with thigh muscle pain this weekend, but should have Iker Muniain available. The midfielder suffered a calf bruise against Real Madrid and, despite missing a few days of training, was able to make the trip to Seville with his teammates. Iago Herrerín and Iñigo Lekue continue to miss out due to injuries of their own.

Both teams will be expected to make some lineup rotations on Sunday. Recent training sessions have hinted at the fact that Mikel Balenziaga could start over Yuri Berchiche and, with a midweek game against Villarreal coming up, Berizzo could shuffle the squad even more. At the same time Real Betis are coming off of demanding European match in Turkey which will affect Setien’s selections as well.

This match will present Athletic with a unique challenge aside from it being the first away game of the season. Real Betis play with three center-backs and two wingbacks which requires a different type of preparation. During his pregame press conference Berizzo admitted that Athletic will have to do some things differently, but made it clear that the Basques will still be playing their style of intense football.

Being without Aduriz will complicate things for Athletic, especially against an opponent that uses five defenders. Possession will play a major role in this fixture so it will be up to players like Dani García and Raúl García to control the middle of the field for the full 90 minutes. The Basques have the opportunity to keep their unbeaten streak alive on Sunday but it will take a strong team performance to leave the Benito Villamarín with all three points.

Projected Athletic Club XI: Unai Simón, Ander Capa, Yeray, Iñigo Martinez, Mikel Balenziaga, Dani García, Beñat, Iker Muniain, Raúl García, Markel Susaeta, Iñaki Williams

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