Previewing Athletic Club vs Villarreal: LaLiga Matchday 26

Ibai Gomez Villarreal

Athletic are looking to end a disastrous winless streak (LaLiga)

If all good things must eventually come to an end, then the same must be true for bad things as well. For Athletic, the ten-game winless streak in La Liga has been disastrous and the team wants to break the cycle as soon as possible. With Villarreal visiting San Mamés on Sunday the Lions will have another opportunity to finally secure a victory, but it will be far from a simple task.

Athletic haven’t beaten Villarreal since April of 2018 and fell 3-0 to the Yellow Submarine in last year’s match at the Cathedral. However, that was Athletic’s only defeat at home against Villarreal in the past six fixtures, with three of those ending in wins. Earlier this season the two sides played to a scoreless draw at Estadio de la Cermámica, though much has changed since then.

After a somewhat slow start to the season Villarreal have quickly turned things around. Having won six of their last ten league matches, Javier Calleja’s side have soared up the table where they currently sit seven points above Athletic in 7th place. A win on Sunday would further position Villarreal in the race for Europe.

Athletic, on the other hand, started the year strong but have since fallen very far off the desired path. Despite being one game away from the Copa del Rey final, the Basques have gone ten straight league games without a victory and have fallen to 11th in the table. The entire city of Bilbao is yearning for a win and San Mamés will be full of energy.

Aside from Asier Villalibre and Oscar De Marcos, who are both recovering from injuries, Gaizka Garitano will have the entire squad available. However, with the Cup semifinal second leg taking place on Thursday night there’s a good chance that the manager will choose to rest a number of key players. Doing so would complicate Athletic’s chances of taking all three points but, in this case, it may be necessary.

Unai Simon Villarreal

Villarreal’s blistering attack will push the Athletic defense (AC)

In Saturday’s press conference Garitano hinted that he wouldn’t really rest players unless they were currently dealing with fatigue. Either way, Dani García should start the match considering that he’s suspended for the trip to Granada. Garitano could also use Sunday’s match to tinker with the lineup in order to find the best solution to replace García on Thursday night. The only youth player called up for the match is Oihan Sancet who will hopefully see minutes after being left off the bench last weekend.

Villarreal will be a massive test for Athletic. As one of the best attacking sides in Spain, Villarreal will push Athletic’s exceptional defense and a win at San Mamés would give the Basques important confidence going into the Cup match later in the week. Regardless of who starts, Athletic are determined to end the winless streak and start climbing the table this weekend.

Projected Athletic Club XI: Unai Simón, Ander Capa, Yeray, Unai Núñez, Iñigo Martinez, Yuri Berchiche, Dani García, Mikel Vesga, Iker Muniain, Raúl García, Iñaki Williams

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