Previewing Athletic Club vs Eibar: LaLiga Matchday 17
Athletic will play their fourth Basque Derby of the season on Saturday in what could very well be the most crucial game of the campaign to this point. As Eibar make the trip to San Mamés just two points above the relegation zone, Athletic are coming off of their worst defeat of the season and staring down a challenging schedule ahead that includes visits to Real Madrid and Sevilla. The Lions need a big win to boost confidence and keep pace in the race for Europe.
Despite their long history and great relationship, Athletic and Eibar have faced off just 12 total times. Athletic have resisted 6 victories while Eibar have managed just one that came four years ago at Ipurua. Los Armeros have never beaten the Lions at San Mamés but will be desperate for points on Saturday knowing that anything can happen in a Basque Derby.
Gaizka Garitano’s side may have just suffered their most disappointing defeat of the past year, but are still full of confidence. The Zurigorri had gone five games without a loss before falling to Real Betis last weekend and, even after going down 3-0, fought back to make it 3-2 and nearly stole a draw. Several players have said publicly that the team has already moved on from the trip to Seville and have been focused on Eibar since stepping off the field at the Benito Villamarín.
As has been the case recently, Garitano will have to deal with a few key absences. Iker Muniain, Aritz Aduriz, Oscar De Marcos, and Cristian Ganea are all ruled out for the game due to injuries. Yuri Berchiche also missed training on Thursday, though sources claim it was out of precaution. Meanwhile, Raúl García will make his return to the lineup after missing the Real Betis clash through suspension.
Garitano hasn’t really been one to alter the lineup without absences forcing him to do so, but that could change agains Eibar. Both Unai Núñez and Beñat worked with the starters at times during training this week and may be brought into the team this weekend. If that happens, Yeray would be brought to the bench as would Oihan Sancet with Unai López playing further forward in the attacking midfield role.
Eibar are in a difficult position. Not only has the team lost four straight games in league play, but they will also be without winger Fabián Orellana who was sent off in last weekend’s match against Getafe. Orellana has arguably been Eibar’s best player this season and leads the team with four goals while no other player has more than two. Pape Diop will also miss the game through suspension while Sergio Álvarez, Anaitz Arbilla, Iván Ramis, and Cote are all ruled out through injury.
A lack of scoring has Eibar’s biggest issue along with defending. José Luis Mendilibar’s side have scored just 15 goals through the opening 16 matches while conceding a total of 28 to this point. Worryingly, the attack has regressed in recent weeks. Since the start of November, Eibar have only one game in which they scored more than a single goal and have been held to three clean sheets.
From a tactical standpoint Athletic could make things very difficult for Eibar who like to use the wings more than any other team in La Liga. The fullback pairing of Ander Capa and Yuri Berchiche has been one of the best in Europe this season and, with Athletic’s defensive style of football, could neutralize the wide areas. If the Lions are able to take away Eibar’s space and control the middle of the field there is a very good chance that Athletic will keep all three points in Bilbao.
Following Saturday’s match, Athletic will travel to face Intercity in the Copa del Rey before making trips to Real Madrid and Sevilla which will prove extremely challenging. As of right now the Zurigorri sit 6th in the La Liga table but the next few weeks could determine whether or not Athletic will be in the race for Europe down the stretch. Saturday’s Derby is a big game but certainly winnable and Athletic can’t afford to drop points with a difficult road ahead.
Projected Athletic Club XI: Unai Simón, Ander Capa, Yeray, Iñigo Martinez, Yuri Berchiche, Dani García, Beñat, Iñaki Williams, Unai López, Iñigo Córdoba, Raúl García