Previewing Athletic Club vs Alavés: La Liga Matchday 35
Three points will be on the line Saturday when Athletic host Alavés at San Mamés and they will be the most important points of the season so far. A win would see the Lions take a six-point lead over the Basque rivals for 7th place in the La Liga table and could put Athletic in a position to clinch a top 7 finish next weekend against Real Valladolid. Basque Derbies are never easy and this one certainly won’t be either.
Athletic and Alavés have met just 29 times with Athletic winning 21 of those fixtures, but things have been different lately. Alavés may only have four wins, but two of those have come in the last four games against Athletic. Still, the Lions won the last meeting at San Mamés 2-0 back in January of 2018 and Alavés haven’t won there since November of 2005. That is their only win ever at The Cathedral.
Alavés have been one of the best teams in La Liga this season, and a major surprise. They spent the first half of the year competing for a Champions League place, but are now in danger of missing out on Europe completely. Alavés have gone six straight games without a win and trail Athletic by three points for 7th place. El Glorioso have conceded 11 goals during their winless streak and are desperate to pick up important points this weekend.
Abelardo was expected to be without a few key players but that won’t be the case. Takashi Inui and Jonathan Calleri have been cleared to play and were included in the squad list for the trip to Bilbao. Alavés will be able to start a very strong lineup as they look to stun San Mamés and jump right back into the race for Europe.
Athletic have been in scintillating form since Gaizka Garitano took over as manager in early December. The Lions climbed out of the relegation zone and now control their own destiny with regards to European qualification. Athletic have won 5 of their last 7 matches and are fully aware of the importance of Saturday’s fixture. A win almost guarantees a top 7 finish and playing at home gives the Zurigorri added motivation.
As has been the case for a few weeks now, Gaizka Garitano will be without a handful of important players. Yeray suffered a muscle injury in Wednesday’s win over Leganés and joins Dani García, Ibai Gómez, and Ander Capa on the list of players who will be unavailable. Unai Nuñez is expected to take Yeray’s place in the lineup. Even with so many injury issues Athletic have continued to play well and get results. There will be no excuses this weekend.
During Friday’s pregame press conference, Garitano pointed out that Alavés are extremely dangerous on set-pieces. Athletic have been working to improve that area of their game and will be put to the test. Alavés have also been succeptible to counter attacks this season which could be a useful tool for the Lions. This game will likely come down to which teams makes fewer mistakes and take advantage of their chances. This is the Basque Derby and Europe is on the line.
Projected Athletic Club XI: Iago Herrerín, Oscar De Marcos, Unai Nuñez, Iñigo Martinez, Yuri Berchiche, Mikel San José, Beñat, Iker Muniain, Raúl García, Iñigo Córdoba, Iñaki Williams