Previewing Levante vs Athletic Club: La Liga Matchday 14

Iker Muniain Levante

Iker Muniain can be a difference maker for Athletic against Levante (LaLiga)

Athletic Club built confidence and positivity with Wednesday’s 4-0 Copa del Rey win over Huesca and are hoping that will carry over to their league campaign. The Lions currently sit 18th in the La Liga table and are in serious need of a victory on Monday night as they travel to the Ciutat de Valencia to take on Levante. Eduardo Berizzo’s side must take all three points in this difficult fixture to start turning the season around.

These two teams have faced off 24 times throughout their history with Athletic enjoying the most success. The Basques have won 13 times, drawn five, and have only lost six meetings while boasting a +11 goal difference. Athletic had gone seven straight games without losing, including six wins, before Levante beat the Lions at the San Mamés last season by a score of 3-1. The last time the Zurigorri visited the Ciutat de Valencia they left with a 2-1 victory.

Since hiring Paco López as their manager back in March Levante have been playing great football. They were able to secure their permanence in La Liga last season with a strong finish, but it’s been something of a rollercoaster this year. They started the campaign with a victory before going five straight games without a win. The Granotas turned things around with four consecutive wins but in their last three league matches they have only managed to pick up two points.

Levante have been a fun team to watch this season with their great counterattacks and play down the wings. However, they will be without a few key players at home on Monday. Cheick Doukouré, Sergio Postigo, Samu García, and Armando Sadiku are all still suffering from injuries and Captain Pedro López picked up a muscle strain in his right leg during training on Thursday. Replacing López won’t be easy and the manager will have some difficult decisions to make.

On a different note, Athletic’s season has been a constant downward spiral. The Basques have gone 12 straight league games without a win, a club record, and currently find themselves in the relegation zone. Picking up three points wouldn’t even get them out of the danger zone as they would move level with Villarreal for 17th but do not have the tiebreaker. Athletic desperately need a win to right the ship and start climbing their way up which makes Monday’s fixture vitally important.

Inigo Martinez

Will using three center-backs give Athletic the edge at the Ciutat de Valencia? (LaLiga)

Speaking of difficult situations, Eduardo Berizzo must find a way to replace the suspended Yuri Berchiche and injured Mikel Balenziaga at left-back. Initially it looked as though Cristian Ganea would get to make his first start of the year, but on Sunday the manager trained with three center-backs and is expected to use a 5-3-2 formation against Levante. Mikel Rico is also ruled out as he continues to nurse an ankle injury, while Yeray is in the squad and still looking to play his first minutes since returning from a groin strain.

The manager has already made it clear that he plans to start Mikel San José, Beñat, and Iker Muniain in midfield again after their great performance against Huesca on Wednesday. If Sunday’s training is any indication, they will be protected by a back line of Ander Capa, Unai Nuñez, Peru Nolaskoain, Iñigo Martinez, and Oscar de Marcos. Aritz Aduriz and Iñaki Williams are expected to start together in attack.

Beating Huesca a few days ago could be just the thing to jumpstart Athletic’s season, but the team can’t relax. The Lions played a fantastic game, defended well, and scored plenty of goals. They must repeat the performance against Levante if they want to pick up three points on the road. In his pregame press conference Berizzo highlighted the need for Athletic to control the midfield and limit Levante’s ability to create from counterattacks. If they do both of those things and generate enough chances in front of goal they will have a great chance of winning at the Ciutat de Valencia. At this point a victory is imperative.

Projected Athletic Club XI: Iago Herrerín, Ander Capa, Unai Nuñez, Peru Nolaskoain, Iñigo Martinez, Oscar de Marcos, Mikel San José, Beñat, Iker Muniain, Iñaki Williams, Aritz Aduriz

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