Previewing Alavés vs Athletic Club: La Liga Matchday 16
The quest of escaping the relegation zone is officially underway. Athletic defeated Girona last week in Gaizka Garitano’s first La Liga game as manager, ending their 13 game winless streak, and are now looking to climb higher. The Lions will have the opportunity to move into sole possession of 17 place on Monday night as they face off with Alavés at the Mendizorrtza in what will be another difficult Basque Derby.
Athletic’s last league win in Gasteiz came all the way back in 2003, but that statistic doesn’t tell the whole story. Alavés would spend 13 of the next 14 years outside of the Primera before finally returning again in 2016. Since their promotion, Alavés haven’t loss to Athletic at the Mendizorrotza, winning both meetings by a combined score of 4-1. Despite not playing each other every single year, the rivalry between these two has always been intense and respectful.
It’s been a special season for Alavés who spent several weeks competing for a place at the top of the league table. They have played great football and are a very balanced team with four different players leading the squad with three goals. However, things haven’t gone well lately. Alavés are winless in their last three league matches, picking up only one point, and have fallen to seventh in the standings. Still, they have yet to lose a game at home this year which makes things even more interesting going into Monday’s match.
There’s no hiding Athletic’s struggles this season. The Lions were unable to realize the vision of Eduardo Berizzo who was dismissed as manager after a club record 13 game winless streak. Everything seems to have changed since Gaizka Garitano’s appointment. Athletic have been playing much better football, winning both games under the new coach, and are looking to build on the momentum after their thrilling win over Girona.
Garitano has the luxury of having basically the entire squad to choose from. Only Mikel Rico, who is still recovering from an ankle injury, is ruled out for the match. Over the past few training session leading in to Monday’s match the manager has worked with some interesting lineup changes, but seems to have been playing mind games before such a huge fixture. Mikel Balenziaga and Unai López have been working with the starters, suggesting they could get the nod against Alavés, but neither player was included in the squad list. A few players will have to be careful though with Oscar De Marcos, Beñat, Unai Nuñez, Raúl García, and Yeray all one booking away from suspension.
For Athletic to come away with all three points they will have to keep Alavés from getting comfortable counter attacks which has been the most dangerous aspect of the Babazorros offense. Defending counters has been a weaknesses for Athletic all year, but they have significantly improved this issue under Garitano and will now be put to the test. Organization and control of the midfield will be as important as ever.
This Basque Derby presents Athletic with a crucial opportunity to climb out of the relegation zone. A win would see the Lions move to 17th in the La Liga table, just three points away from 12th place. The players have been saying all week that they understand the magnitude of this match and it’s clear that this will be yet another final for the Zurigorri.
Projected Athletic Club XI: Iago Herrerín, Ander Capa, Yeray, Iñigo Martinez, Yuri Berchiche, Dani García, Beñat, Iñigo Córdoba, Raúl García, Iñaki Williams, Aritz Aduriz