Previewing Athletic Club vs Villarreal

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Can Athletic continue their strong start to the season? (LaLiga)

The La Liga season is starting to pick up and on Wednesday Athletic will be playing their fifth game of the year. After two demanding matches against Real Madrid and Real Betis the Lions will now host Villarreal at the San Mamés in what promises to be yet another exciting fixture. Can the Basques keep their unbeaten streak alive?

If history is any indicator there is plenty of optimism for Athletic going into this match. Since the new San Mamés opened in 2013 Villarreal has yet to win on the road and the aggregate score is 11-3 over that span of time. The Lions have won 4 of the 6 meetings with the other two ending in draws. Interestingly, red cards have also been something of a common occurrence during these matches with Villarreal having a player sent off in three of the last six meetings.

Much like Athletic, Villarreal have been a constant face in Europe over the past few years and are always dangerous. It was a summer of transition for the Yellow Submarine who saw key players like Rodri and Samu Castillejo leave the club, but new signings such as Gerard Moreno, Karl Toko Ekambi, Santiago Cáseres, and Ramiro Funes Mori have brought excitement and expectations. Still, it hasn’t been the best start for Villarreal who have earned just one win over their opening 5 matches. The defense has played well, conceding just three times, but the offense has only managed to score two goals so far.

Athletic only have one win from their opening four games, but also haven’t been beaten so far this year. The Lions are playing a brilliant style of football under new manager Eduardo Berizzo and are coming off of two strong performances against Real Madrid and Real Betis. Athletic scored first in both games but were not able to keep the lead. Sunday’s match was the best showing of the year so far with the Basques taking an early 2-0 lead, but a Markel Susaeta red card allowed Betis to come away with a draw. With each passing game Athletic have looked even more dominant and will be hoping to continue that run of form at the San Mamés.

Aritz Aduriz Training Guruzeta

Aritz Aduriz has been cleared to play against Villarreal (AS)

Javi Calleja will have some difficult decisions to make with his selection. Midfielders Bruno Soriano, Santi Cáseres, and Javi Fuego will all miss the game which could lead to issues in the center of the field. Despite the lack of depth centrally, Villarreal have all of their dangerous attacking players available and will likely be looking to attack in waves to take advantage of their strength in that area.

After the demanding game against Betis and a match against Barcelona coming up over the weekend, Berizzo will have to rotate some of his lineup. Markel Susaeta will already miss the match due to red card suspension but Aritz Aduriz has been cleared to return after missing time with thigh discomfort. Apart from Iago Herrerín and Iñigo Lekue, who are both still out with injuries, the rest of the squad is available for selection. It should also be noted that Berizzo stated in his pregame press conference that the team will only play with one holding midfielder on Wednesday after using a double pivot in the previous two matches.

When it comes to tactical battles on the field Athletic’s game plan will revolve around their usual intense pressure and desire to dominate possession. With Villarreal missing key players in the midfield the Lions will look to establish control in that area which could be the deciding factor in the match. That being said, Villarreal still have plenty of dangerous forwards and it will be up to the Athletic defenders to ensure that they don’t give up any easy looks at goal. If the Basques can continue to play at the same level they have over the past few weeks they can come away with all three points, but so far this season it hasn’t been that simple.

Projected Athletic Club XI: Unai Simón, Ander Capa, Unai Nuñez, Iñigo Martinez, Yuri Berchiche, Dani García, Raúl García, Unai López, Iker Muniain, Iñigo Córdoba, Iñaki Williams

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