Previewing Athletic Club vs Real Betis: LaLiga Matchday 30
When La Liga finally returned last weekend Athletic had one goal, to climb the table in the remaining eleven matches and qualify for Europe. The Lions trailed the top seven by just five points, but after two games Athletic are no closer to their objective. Following draws against Atlético Madrid and Eibar the Basques now have just nine matches left and the margin for error is thin.
If Athletic are serious about challenging for Europe they must start winning games and Saturday’s visit from Real Betis presents the perfect opportunity to add three important points. Anything less than a victory would be an unacceptable result.
Betis are in a turbulent situation at the moment with manager Rubi said to be on the edge of the hot seat. Rumors claim that he could be sacked if Betis fail to win on Saturday and recent results don’t bode well for the Andalusians. Athletic haven’t lost to Betis at San Mamés since August of 2012 and have won six straight games in Bilbao.
Still, Saturday’s match will be far from simple. Without fans allowed in the stadium Athletic will be missing the extra energy from the supporters that has always made San Mamés such a formidable venue. It will be up to the players to bring the intensity and the team will look to build on the impressive performance against Atlético Madrid last weekend.
Betis also play a style of football that could make things challenging for Athletic. Rubi’s side like to have possession, which isn’t a problem for Athletic’s defensive system, but Betis are also very good on the counter attack which was a major issue in the first meeting earlier this season. Betis defeated Athletic 3-2 in that game at Benito Villamarín but will be without Joaquín, Sidnei, and Javi García.”
Gaizka Garitano will once again have some very difficult decisions to make. With this being Athletic’s third game in less than one week fatigue will be a factor when selecting the lineup. The manager promised not to make too many changes in the trip to Ipurua, but fans were unhappy to see Iñaki Williams start the game on the bench.
Finding the balance between fielding a strong team and rotating players is one of the biggest challenges for every manager at the moment. Garitano called up the same 23 players that traveled to Eibar again for Saturday’s clash with Betis and said during his press conference that he will pick the strongest possible lineup depending on fitness and fatigue. Yuri Berchiche and Iñigo Córdoba are also one booking away from suspension.
Regardless of who starts, anything short of a great performance and all three points will be inexcusable. Athletic will have the advantage of playing at home as well as the edge in quality. Players like Iker Muniain and Iñaki Williams will once again be the focal point of the attack, but the defense will be put under pressure at times as well. If Athletic play their football and put in a performance similar to last weekend then the Zurigorri should come away with a big victory and all three points.
Projected Athletic Club XI: Unai Simón, Ander Capa, Unai Núñez, Iñigo Martinez, Yuri Berchiche, Dani García, Unai López, Iñaki Williams, Iker Muniain, Iñigo Córdoba, Asier Villalibre