Previewing Athletic Club vs Real Valladolid: La Liga Matchday 17

Aduriz Celebrate Huesca

Athletic have been playing better football under Gaizka Garitano (LaLiga)

It’s all about winning at Athletic Club. Nothing else matters. As the Lions currently sit in the relegation zone manager Gaizka Garitano has made it clear that the only focus is adding three points in every game and they will have another opportunity to do so on Saturday when they welcome Real Valladolid to the San Mamés. A victory could see Athletic move clear of the drop zone and the players seem ready for what will be another difficult challenge.

Athletic enter the game with history on their side. The Basques haven’t loss to Valladolid since February of 2009 and haven’t been defeated at home since March of 2004. In fact, Athletic have won 38 of the 84 league meetings and hold an overall goal differential of +33. The statistics clearly favor the Lions in Saturday’s fixture, but it certainly won’t be that easy.

Valladolid have enjoyed a successful season since earning promotion last year and currently sit 12th in the La Liga table, five points ahead of Athletic. The Pucela have struggled to score goals this year, finding the back of the net just 15 times in 16 matches, but also boast one of the best defenses in the league having only conceded 18 times. Their form has dipped a bit over the last few weeks as Valladolid have lost three of their last four La Liga fixtures. Manager Sergio González will have to do without injured Ivi López, Duje Cop and Luismi but will still be able to start his strongest lineup.

Athletic have played much better since Gaizka Garitano was appointed as the first team manager a few weeks ago. The team won the first two games followed by a difficult draw on the road against Alavés on Monday night. The new system focuses on attacking down the wings, crossing balls into the box, and playing organized and strong defense. In three games under the new coach the Basques have yet to concede a goal.

Athletic San Mames

The atmosphere at the San Mamés could be a difference maker once again (AC)

As expected Mikel Rico and Iñigo Lekue will miss the game due to injuries, but everyone else is available. Garitano admitted in his pregame press conference that there will be some changes in the starting lineup but refused to discuss specifics. Several sources seem to believe that Iñaki Williams and Iker Muniain will be back in the team but that remains to be seen. Either way, Garitano will be able to start a very strong eleven and there will be no excuse for the Lions not putting in a great performance at home.

To win Saturday’s match Athletic will have to be successful in three important tactical areas. First, the battle between Dani García and Michel for control of the midfield will likely determine which side enjoys more possession and time on the ball. Secondly, Valladolid’s left wing of Nacho and Toni Villa against Athletic’s right wing of Iñaki Williams and Ander Capa or Oscar de Marcos could be where both teams focus the bulk of their attacks. Lastly, Aritz Aduriz and Raúl García will have to find a way to break through the Pucela defense for Athletic to create chances in front of goal.

There’s no doubt about it, this is going to be a real challenge for Athletic. Real Valladolid are playing great football this season and have been one of the hardest teams to beat when playing away from home. Athletic’s goal is clear. The only thing that matters right now is winning football matches and adding points. A victory on Saturday could lift the Zurigorri out of the relegation zone and you can guarantee that the atmosphere at the San Mamés will be outstanding.

Projected Athletic Club XI: Iago Herrerín, Ander Capa, Yeray, Iñigo Martinez, Yuri Berchiche, Dani García, Beñat, Iker Muniain, Raúl García, Iñaki Williams, Aritz Aduriz

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