Previewing Granada vs Athletic Club: LaLiga Matchday 1
Athletic ended last season with an embarrassing 4-0 loss to Granada. The team had nothing to play for and it showed. Gaizka Garitano’s side were unmotivated, dreadfully poor, and completely outclassed by Granada who qualified for Europe because of the result. Over the summer the players and coaches have had time to reflect on how everything fell apart. On Saturday, 55 days days after leaving Los Cármenes in desolation, Athletic return to kick off the new La Liga season.
In truth, Los Cármenes was also the sight of immense joy last season as well. Yuri Berchiche’s late goal in the Copa del Rey semifinals sent Athletic through to the final. Unfortunately, the final has yet to be played due to the recent pandemic.
Athletic and Granada’s stories intertwined last year. Heartbreak for one meant celebration for the other. One reached the Cup final and the other qualified for Europe, both needing wins over each other to do so. Needless to say, the two clubs grew quite familiar with one another over the past 12 months.
With European football on the horizon Granada reinforced the squad over the summer. Maxime Gonalons and Dimitri Foulqueir joined the club on a permanent basis following impressive loan spells last season. Jesús Vallejo returns for another season at Los Cármenes as well. Jorge Molina, Alberto Soro, and top signing Luis Milla round out the additions.
On the other hand, Athletic’s squad looks fairly similar. So far the Basques haven’t made any new signings though a number of young players turned heads during the preseason. Jon Morcillo, Oier Zarraga, and Unai Vencedor were all called up for the trip to Granada with Morcillo possibly in line to start on the left wing.
Yuri Berchiche was also included in the squad after missing most of preseason through injury. It’s unclear whether or not he will start. Mikel Balenziaga is ready to take his place in the lineup if needed. For now, coaches will still be allowed to make five substitutions, giving Garitano more options to change the game.
Following a condensed preseason neither side enters the first game of the season in a good rhythm. Athletic need to take advantage of mistakes, and avoid mistakes of their own, to come away with all three points. Being a defensive-minded team may very well play into Athletic’s favor in an empty stadium away from home.
Both teams like to play physical football, but Granada excelled at set pieces last season. Limiting chances in front of goal will be Athletic’s key to victory along with finding a way to put the ball into the back of the net. The Basques proved to be one of Europe’s best defensive teams last season, though scoring remains the biggest problem.
Raúl García, Iñaki Williams, and Iker Muniain must be at their best to break down the Granada back line. When on the field, attacks run through Unai López who is trusted to provide the creativity going forward. Winning the midfield battle could be the difference between a good result and going home empty-handed.
It’s somewhat poetic that the new season begins where the previous one ended. If a Phoenix can rise from the ashes, maybe Lions can too. The fight for Europe begins at Los Cármenes and a win over Granada would be the perfect way for Athletic to get off to a strong start in La Liga.
Projected Athletic Club XI: Unai Simón, Ander Capa, Yeray, Iñigo Martínez, Mikel Balenziaga, Dani García, Unai López, Iñaki Williams, Iker Muniain, Jon Morcillo, Raúl García