Previewing Athletic Club vs Valencia: LaLiga Matchday 7
The start to the La Liga season has been unbelievably exciting. While the “giants” of Spain have sputtered out of the gate, several other clubs have been in terrific form. Athletic found themselves at the top of the table after the opening five matches but Wednesday’s draw against Leganes saw the Lions fall to fourth. On Saturday they will welcome Valencia to San Mames where a victory could catapult the Basques back to first.
History runs deep between Athletic and Valencia. The two historic La Liga clubs have faced off 170 times with results very close. Valencia have won the fixture 67 times to Athletic’s 62 and the goal difference over the decades is still just -6 which is remarkable. In recent years, Valencia have gotten the better of the Basques. Athletic haven’t beaten Valencia since September of 2016 and have lost three of the past five meetings, scoring just three goals.
It’s been a roller-coaster of a season for Valencia to this point. After winning the Copa del Rey last year, manager Marcelino was recently fired and replaced by Albert Celades. Fans are still furious over the decision made by owner Peter Lim, but results haven’t been overly poor since the change. Los Che beat Chelsea in Champions League play followed by draws against Leganes and Getafe at Mestalla.
Celades will be without key players Kevin Gameiro and Geoffrey Kondogbia on Saturday which will force the manager to make some difficult changes to the lineup. Rotations were likely going to be necessary regardless with Valencia’s trip to San Mames being the team’s fourth match in 14 days. Fitness and stamina could be major problems against such an intense Athletic side.
Gaizka Garitano lead Athletic from the relegation zone to nearly qualifying for Europe after taking over as manager back in December and the team has raised their level even higher this season. The Zurigorri are unbeaten through the opening six games, having won all three matches at home where they haven’t concede a single goal. Athletic’s commitment to organized defending and high pressure has made them one of the best teams in La Liga at the moment and hosting Valencia will be another big test.
During Friday’s press conference, Garitano made it clear that physical limitations will dictate his selection for Saturday’s match. The manager will assess the players during the final training session in order to gauge which players will need to be rested in this fixture. Regardless of who is on the field, the Mister says that he trusts every player and expects the team to perform at their best level.
Two different styles of football will be on display at San Mamés. Athletic’s defensive system will be tasked with silencing a Valencia side full of players who can find the back of the net. Consequently, Los Che have already conceded 11 goals this season which is more than any other club in La Liga. Positional battles are usually the biggest factor in the outcome of matches, but this weekend the real question will be squad fitness with both teams having played an intense schedule as of late.
Projected Athletic Club XI: Unai Simón, Ander Capa, Yeray, Iñigo Martinez, Yuri Berchiche, Dani García, Unai López, Ibai Gómez, Raúl García, Iker Muniain, Iñaki Williams