Previewing Athletic Club vs Atlético Madrid: LaLiga Matchday 28
Three months have passed since Athletic’s last game. Three very long and difficult months. The pandemic brought all of football, and indeed every day life, to a screeching halt but the La Liga season has finally returned. With eleven games left to play Athletic have dreams of finishing in the top seven and the path to Europe will begin on Sunday at San Mamés.
The Cathedral will be empty as the Lions host Atlético Madrid in what will be one of the most strange games in the club’s history. Playing behind closed doors is never fun and Athletic will lack the support that normally turns San Mamés into a fortress. Adapting to the new situation could be the difference between victory and defeat.
Gaizka Garitano will essentially have the entire squad available. Only Asier Villalibre, who missed training with a muscle overload, is ruled out for the game. Iñige Lekue was included in the squad despite only returning to training on Wednesday after suffering an ankle sprain a few weeks ago. Dani Vivian and Gorka Guruzeta were also left out of the team. It should also be noted that Yuri Berchiche and Iñigo Córdoba are both one booking away from suspension.
Similarly, Diego Simeone will have most of his squad to choose from as well. Only João Félix and Sime Vrsaljko have been ruled out for the trip to Bilbao. The Colchoneros will be able to field a very strong lineup which could make things very difficult for Athletic at home.
The biggest question at this point for both sides is how the teams will line up. On one hand Garitano must choose between the traditional 4-2-3-1 formation or playing with three center-backs, while rumors suggest that Simeone could move Marcos Llorente from midfield to the striker position. Having had five weeks to prepare there’s little room for error.
Interestingly, there will also be a few changes to end the season. In addition to scheduled water breaks throughout the match there will also be more opportunities for players to see minutes. Game day squads have been increased from 18 players to 23 and managers will be allowed to make a total of 5 substitutions. The ultimate goal is to lessen the demand on the footballers in what will be a condensed schedule, but the changes will also give coaches more options.
Over the past week the Athletic players have made it clear that they’re ready to play again and eager to compete. Europe is the only goal and the team is determined to climb the table and give fans something to celebrate to end the season. Hosting Atlético Madrid in the first game back will be daunting, but the Zurigorri welcome the challenge.
Projected Athletic Club XI: Unai Simón, Ander Capa, Yeray, Iñigo Martinez, Yuri Berchiche, Dani García, Unai López, Iñaki Williams, Iker Muniain, Iñigo Córdoba, Raúl García