Previewing Celta Vigo vs Athletic Club: La Liga Matchday 18
The Holidays are over and it’s back to work for Athletic Club. Following Villarreal’s 2-2 draw with Real Madrid on Thursday the Lions enter the weekend back in the relegation zone and in need of points. They will travel to Balaídos to face off with Celta Vigo on Monday with a win potentially lifting Athletic as high as 16th in the La Liga table. There’s no room for error, the Basques must have a good performance on the road.
Once again, history favors Athletic who have won 58 of their 102 total matches against Celta Vigo, including 5 of the last 7 meetings. Celta won last year’s game at Balaídos 3-1 which, was their first victory at home against Athletic since December of 2013, and the Basques are desperate to get things back on track this year. Athletic have scored 12 goals in their last 7 games against Celta which bodes well for a team that has struggled to find the back of the net this season.
It’s been an up and down season for Celta Vigo thus far. The Celestes have 5 wins, 6 draws, and 6 defeats and currently sit 11th in the La Liga table on 21 points, just five more than Athletic. Celta are currently on a two game winless streak, having drawn against Leganés and lost to Barcelona in the previous fixtures. They come into Monday’s match needing points to continue climbing the table with hopes of competing for European qualification.
Celta have been a dangerous team offensively this year, scoring 28 goals through their first 17 league matches. Iago Aspas leads the team with 10 goals but will not be available to play against Athletic as the striker has been ruled out for a month with an injury. Maxi Gómez, who has scored 8 goals of his own, will be trusted to lead the attack which means that it will still be a difficult night for Athletic’s defense.
Athletic, meanwhile, have done much better under new manager Gaizka Garitano. The Lions have yet to lose a game and have been more organized in all aspects of the game. A win would lift them to 16th in the La Liga table and just four points off of 10th place. Having the entire Holiday break to train should prove to be a great thing for the team who have now had the time to work on more detailed aspects of Garitano’s system.
The Lions will be without starters Yeray and Raúl García, who are both suspended, as well as injured Mikel Rico and Iñigo Lekue. Iker Muniain and Nuñez will take their places in the team. García has actually scored 4 of the team’s last 5 goals at Balaídos so his production will have to be replaced. Interestingly, Garitano worked all week with Aritz Aduriz out of the starting lineup which means that Iñaki Williams is expected to start at striker in this important fixture.
Despite not having Aspas, Celta Vigo will still prove to be a difficult test for Athletic, as Garitano pointed out in his pregame press conference. The Zurigorri will have to be at their best if they want to take all three points which is a necessity at this point in the season and considering the other results around the league over the weekend. With a challenging month ahead of them, playing 6 games in 20 days, Athletic must start off 2019 with a victory.
Projected Athletic Club XI: Iago Herrerín, Ander Capa, Unai Nuñez, Iñigo Martinez, Yuri Berchiche, Dani García, Beñat, Iñigo Córdoba, Iker Muniain, Markel Susaeta, Iñaki Williams