Previewing Athletic Club vs Atlético Madrid: La Liga Matchday 28

Raul Garcia Mikel San Jose Espanyol Celebrate

Raúl García has scored the last 4 goals for Athletic (LaLiga)

In just a few days the international break will begin and it comes at a good time for Athletic. The Lions will have time to regroup before the final stretch of the season while also seeing players such as Ander Capa and Aritz Aduriz given the chance to reincorporate back into the team. Before that happens, though, the Basques will first have to face off with Atlético Madrid on Saturday at San Mamés.

These two clubs have a rich history, competing in 165 matches throughout the years, with Athletic winning 60 of those meetings. It’s been all Atlético in recent seasons though. Athletic haven’t won this fixture since January of 2013 when they defeated Atlético 3-0 at San Mamés. Since then the Lions have managed just 2 draws and 11 defeats.

When Atlético walk into San Mamés on Saturday they will be angry. Los Colchoneros were eliminated from the Champions League earlier this week and will be looking to take their frustrations out on Athletic. Despite bowing out of Europe early, Diego Simeone’s side has won four straight games in La Liga after suffering two consecutive defeats. Atlético are in good form and have added motivation, which will make this weekend’s clash even more difficult for Athletic.

As has been the case for most of the season, Simeone will be without a few key players due to injuries. Lucas Hernandez, Stefan Savic, Santiago Arias, and Vitolo have all missed training and are not expected to be available. Atlético’s back line could be problematic, but the coach is also looking to change up the attack. According to reports in Madrid Simeone has been testing a trident of Antoine Griezmann, Diego Costa, and Alvaro Morata in training ahead of Saturday’s clash.

Athletic have been playing great football since Gaizka Garitano took over as manager back in December. The Lions have yet to lose a league game at home and are showing a lot of confidence going into the match against Atlético. Athletic are currently riding a two-game winless streak after being beaten by Valencia then drawing with Espanyol last weekend, and the Zurigorri are eager to set things straight.

Unai Nunez

Unai Nuñez was flawless against Atlético Madrid earlier this season (AC)

Likewise, Garitano will also be without a few key players. Aritz Aduriz may have returned to training earlier this week but he will not be cleared to play on Saturday. Ander Capa is still recovering from a strained hamstring and will be unavailable as well. Luckily, Mikel Balenziaga returned to training on Thursday and can be in the team, although Markel Susaeta was absent and his availability is now in question. Iñigo Martinez is suspended for this game due to yellow card accumulation which means Unai Nuñez will take his place beside Yeray in the back line.

Both Athletic and Atlético are teams that place a heavy emphasis on defense. In the second half of the season they have been two of the best defensive units in La Liga and that could make for an interesting match. Garitano understands that beating Atlético won’t be easy, but their recent loss to Juventus does provide some lessons. The Italians were able to pin back Simeone’s side with patient attacks and constant crossing, which is something that Athletic can and should use to their advantage.

The most important thing for Athletic will be controlling the midfield. If they allow the likes of Saul, Koke, or Rodrigo to get into a rhythm the game will be even more difficult. There is belief that Mikel San José will be starting alongside Dani García once again to help in this area. Ibai Gómez could also replace Susaeta in the lineup after his impressive performance against Espanyol. Garitano has several different options to choose from and he will have to get the tactics right to get a good result this weekend.

Projected Athletic Club XI: Iago Herrerín, Oscar De Marcos, Yeray, Unai Nuñez, Yuri Berchiche, Dani García, Mikel San José, Ibai Gómez, Raúl García, Iker Muniain, Iñaki Williams

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