Previewing Athletic Club vs Rayo Vallecano: La Liga Matchday 32

Unai Lopez Iker Muniain Celebrate

Iker Muniain scored Athletic’s goal at Vallecas earlier this season (LaLiga)

With only seven games left to be played, Sunday’s match against Rayo Vallecano is crucial for Athletic. A win would see the Lions jump into sole ownership of 7th place and potentially into a tie for 6th. Manager Gaizka Garitano has made it clear that qualifying for Europe is the ultimate goal at this point, but there is a lot of competition for the top spots in the La Liga table.

Athletic and Rayo have met just 39 times throughout history with the Basques winning 18 of those fixtures. Rayo have managed only managed 10 wins with a mere 3 of those coming at San Mamés. Athletic haven’t lost since September of 2014, but the two did play to a 1-1 draw earlier this season at Vallecas. There is much respect between the two clubs and on Sunday there will be a battle.

Rayo know the position that they are in. Currently 19th in the table, they have seven games left to climb out of the bottom and achieve salvation. Although the results as a whole haven’t been that impressive Rayo have improved a lot under new manager Paco Jémez. Last weekend they defeated Valencia 2-0 at Vallecas and will be looking to build on that momentum against another strong opponent.

Paco Jémez has called up a very strong squad for Sunday’s game. He will theoretically be able to field the same team that beat Valencia last weekend, apart from Alejandro Gálvez. Of course, the most dangerous player for Rayo will be Raúl de Tomás. The striker has found the back of the net 13 times this season and is capable of scoring at any moment. Athletic’s great defense will be put to the test in trying to silence the former Real Madrid man.

Raul Garcia Yuri Berchiche Rayo

Athletic must slow down Raúl de Tomás to win on Sunday (LaLiga)

When Gaizka Garitano took over as the Athletic manager back in early December the Lions were almost level on points with Rayo. As of now, Rayo are still trying to escape relegation, but the Basques have another goal. Athletic are currently 3 points off of 6th place and will overtake 7th win a win Sunday. The remaining fixtures will be challenging but the Zurigorri have a realistic chance at qualifying for Europe this season.

Garitano will have some difficult decisions to make. Ibai Gómez and Ander Capa will both miss the match due to injury while Mikel San José is suspended. Oscar De Marcos is expected to start at right-back which leaves Markel Susaeta as the most likely choice for the right-wing. However, with Aritz Aduriz finally back from a knee injury, he could start up front with Iñaki Williams moving back wide. Iker Muniain will also be back in the team after serving a suspension last weekend which gives the Mister other options as well.

For Athletic to win they will have to do a few things well. First, as Iñigo Martinez pointed out, they have to take advantage of the fact that Rayo are desperate for points and will take risks. The Lions can play a high line to press their visitors but must do so without being caught out of position. Secondly, they must control the midfield and keep Raúl de Tomás from getting chances in front of goal. If they manage to do both things Athletic should be able to come away with all three points and keep pace in the race for Europe.

Projected Athletic Club XI: Iago Herrerín, Oscar De Marcos, Yeray, Iñigo Martinez, Yuri Berchiche, Dani García, Beñat, Markel Susaeta, Raúl García, Iker Muniain, Iñaki Williams

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