Previewing Athletic Club vs Eibar: La Liga Matchday 25
Athletic Club haven’t been in the top half of the La Liga table since September, but a win this weekend would change that entirely. The Lions trail Eibar, who are in tenth place, by one point and welcome their neighbors to the San Mamés on Saturday for what will be an intense match. So far manager Gaizka Garitano has refused to discuss the possibility of competing for European qualification and this Basque Derby will determine whether or not Athletic can truly enter the conversation.
These two clubs have a good relationship and deep history despite the fact that they have only met 11 times. Athletic have five wins and boast a +6 goal difference while Eibar have only beaten the Zurigorri once in their entire history. That victory took place at Ipurua back in August of 2015. Eibar have never defeated Athletic at the San Mamés which adds even more intrigue to Saturday’s fixture. When the two met earlier this season the game ended in a 1-1 draw which was a lucky result for Athletic who played very poorly.
Eibar have been in fantastic form this season, losing only once in their last 10 league matches. The one loss came against Barcelona at the Camp Nou nearly a month ago. Under the leadership of José Luis Mendilibar Los Armeros have played exciting possession-based football that has yielded good results. Eibar are one of the most dangerous offensive teams in La Liga having already scored 33 goals this season. However, they have also struggled defensively conceding 34 to opponents.
The offensive strength for Eibar is found in strikers Sergi Enrich and Charles. The two forwards have scored a combined 17 goals for the team. They will certainly put Athletic’s much-improved defense to the test on Saturday. Eibar’s ability to control the pace of play and create scoring chances in several different ways has made them a difficult side to play against. As one of the hottest teams in La Liga at the moment, they will be seriously looking to take all three points at the San Mamés for the first time ever.
Since Garitano took over as the Athletic manager back in early December the Lions have been one of the best teams in La Liga. In fact, they have earned the 4th most points in the league since the coaching change took place. Like Eibar, they also boast a record of having lost just once in their last 10 domestic games, but have found their success in a different way. Garitano has put his emphasis on defensive strength and organization which has led to immediate results. In the 13 total games under Garitano Athletic have secured 8 clean sheets.
Athletic’s defensive mastery has revolved around the stellar performances of Yeray and Iñigo Martinez. The two have formed the best center-back pairing in Spain over the last two months and the structure at the back has allowed the Zurigorri to be able to create chances going forward. Once winning the ball back Athletic are very direct in attack, utilizing the wings and the pace of Iñaki Williams up top. Garitano will have plenty of options to choose from when selecting his lineup on Saturday with only Aritz Aduriz and Iñigo Lekue ruled out due to injury.
Ander Capa said it best during his press conference on Thursday. “Both teams are coming into the game in good form; it will be a tense and beautiful Derby.” Not only does this match promise to be highly entertaining, it will also see two very different styles of football do battle. Athletic’s impressive defense will be tasked with slowing down Eibar’s deadly offense, while the Zurigorri will also be looking to take advantage of the fact that their visitors tend to concede a lot of goals of their own. History tells us that Athletic should be able to get a positive result at the San Mamés, but with the way La Liga has gone this season absolutely anything is possible.
Projected Athletic Club XI: Iago Herrerín, Ander Capa, Yeray, Iñigo Martinez, Yuri Berchiche, Dani García, Beñat, Iker Muniain, Raúl García, Oscar De Marcos, Iñaki Williams