Previewing Athletic Club vs Real Betis: La Liga Matchday 21

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Athletic are looking to keep their unbeaten streak alive against Real Betis (AC)

Athletic have yet to lose a league game under Gaizka Garitano and will put their impressive streak on the line Sunday when they host Real Betis at the San Mamés. It’s been a fantastic run from the Lions who are playing their best football in nearly two years, but Betis have been one of the most dangerous teams in La Liga which could make this an entertaining clash. Taking all three points won’t be easy though they would continue to improve Athletic’s place in the table.

Throughout history Athletic have had the upper hand in matches between the two. The Lions have won 47 of the 117 total meetings and boast a +73 goal differential. This trend has continued recently with the last Betis win at the San Mamés coming all the way back in August of 2012. Since then Athletic have held Betis to one goal or fewer in every game at home. Earlier this year the Basques held a deserved 2-0 lead at the Benito Villamarín before Markel Susaeta was sent off and the game ended in a 2-2 draw. Athletic also have a great record in games against Quique Setien, losing just once in 7 career matches against the Betis manager.

As mentioned above, Real Betis have been one of the best teams in all of Spain over the past two years. Quique Setien’s possession style of football has yielded great results and will test Athletic. Los Beticos currently sit 7th in the La Liga table with 29 points and won their previous league match 3-2 against Girona which ended a 2 game losing streak. There has been some inconsistency in the performances, but Betis are dangerous.

Setien will likely have to make some tough decisions regarding his starting lineup. The manager had several players missing on Thursday in the Copa del Rey fixture against Espanyol which will also affect some of their availabilities on Sunday. Javi García, Ryad Boudebouz, Joaquín, and Júnior Firpo were all left out of the squad. Giovanni Lo Celso was suspended for the Cup match but will play against Athletic.

Markel Susaeta

Markel Susaeta’s red card cost Athletic 2 points against Betis earlier this season (LaLiga)

When Gaizka Garitano took over as the manager of Athletic back on 4 December the team was in a really bad place. The Lions had gone 14 straight games without a league win and were floundering in the relegation zone. Since the change the Zurigorri have picked up 12 of a possible 18 points and have soared into 14th place, just 6 points off of the European zone of the La Liga table. They’ve yet to lose a league game under the new coach.

Garitano will be without Aritz Aduriz, Mikel Rico, and Iñigo Lekue who are still recovering from various injuries. Raúl García was finally able to return to regular training on Friday but was still left off the squad list out of precaution. Beñat will also be suspended due to yellow card accumulation and Mikel San José is expected to take his place in the lineup.

Taking all three points could move Athletic into the top half of the table, but it won’t be easy. The Lions will need to limit the chances Betis have on the wings while also being patient against their possession-based style of football. Betis have been susceptible to counter attacks and crosses while allowing two goals in each of their last 3 league matches. The Basques must make the most of their opportunities every time they have the ball, play organized defense, and attack directly just like they have so far under Garitano if they are going to get a positive result in this challenging fixture.

Projected Athletic Club XI: Iago Herrerín, Ander Capa, Yeray, Iñigo Martinez, Yuri Berchiche, Dani García, Mikel San José, Ibai Gómez, Iker Muniain, Iñigo Córdoba, Iñaki Williams

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