Previewing Eibar vs Athletic: LaLiga Matchday 29
Athletic could have taken all three points in Sunday’s match against Atlético Madrid, but only managed to come away with one. Still, it was an impressive showing from Gaizka Garitano’s side who returned to action for the first time in three months. On Wednesday the Lions will travel to Ipurua for what will be an important Basque Derby against Eibar.
The hope of qualifying for Europe is still alive but Athletic must finish in the top seven of the La Liga table. For now the Zurigorri are five points adrift and would continue their climb with a big win over their neighbors. However, Eibar are only two points above the relegation zone and are desperate to move further away from the drop.
This will be the first Basque Derby between the two played behind closed doors and it will be strange. However, Gaizka Garitano isn’t taking anything for granted even if fans won’t be in the seats at Ipurua. “There’s no team capable of dominating Eibar there,” the manager said during Tuesday’s press conference.
Eibar are coming off of a 3-1 loss to Real Madrid over the weekend knowing they need points to stay clear of the relegation zone. Since earning promotion to the Primera, Eibar have only beaten Athletic once with the lone win coming at Ipurua, but the Armagiñak always play well. Neither team has scored more than one goal in the last six meetings.
Anything less than a win for Athletic could result in the Lions falling further behind in the race for Europe. With this being the second game in a stretch where Athletic will play four matches in ten days, Garitano will have to be careful with his team selection. The Mister must find the right balance while also being mindful of fatigue throughout the squad.
Garitano made just one change to the 23-man squad for the trip to Ipurua, calling up Asier Villalibre in place of Beñat. Villalibre missed the match against Atlético due to a muscle injury but has recovered in time to face Eibar. Although some changes to the lineup are possible, Garitano won’t be altering the team too much.
“We will try to have a recognizable team, but we aren’t going to make eight changes because we’ve rested well,” he told reporters after Tuesday’s training session at Lezama. “It’s the second game of the eleven and we aren’t going to make so many changes every day. The team has to be recognizable and have a structure.”
It’s entirely possible that Garitano will field the same lineup that played so well against Atlético Madrid. Regardless of the eleven, the changes throughout the match will also play a significant role in determining the result. All five substitutions were used in the draw at San Mamés, but the attack suffered as a result. Athletic can’t afford to have a poor showing against Eibar with three points on the line.
As usual, Eibar will be expected to utilize an intense press that will make things uncomfortable for Athletic. If the Zurigorri are able to control possession without giving the ball away in dangerous areas then chances will be created in the final third. Despite the discrepancy in the table Eibar will be a difficult opponent, but Athletic have the motivation and quality to bring all three points back home to Bilbao.
Athletic and Eibar have a deep history. In addition to Garitano wearing the captain’s armband for Eibar and taking the club from the Segunda B all the way to Primera as manager, several current Athletic players have once called Ipurua home. Ander Capa, Yuri Berchiche, and Dani García all played for Eibar under Garitano and will once again face their former club in a special return.
The two sides wish they were meeting under better circumstances but Wednesday’s match will be a serious battle. Neither can afford to drop points and a draw will be seen as a missed opportunity for both. Athletic will enter Ipurua as favorites, but in a Basque Derby the only thing that matters is what happens on the field.