Athletic haven’t been in the top half of the La Liga table since September, but they had the opportunity to change that on Saturday. Eibar, who held a one point lead over the Lions, came into the San Mamés for what promised to be a thrilling Basque Derby. Athletic knew they needed to set the tone early if they were going to get a positive result and that’s exactly what they did.
Just 42 seconds into the game Athletic had a counter attack with Yuri Berchiche running down the left wing. He played a pass to Iker Muniain and continued his run into the box where he received the ball again. Without the space to maneuver, Berchiche sent the ball back into the middle of the box where Raúl García ran into space and was able to blast a shot past the goalkeeper to give the Zurigorri an early 1-0 lead.
With the lead in hand Athletic turned on the pressure and quickly took all of the momentum inside of the roaring San Mamés. Just 12 minutes later Eibar would nearly get their first chance when Yeray slipped and gave the ball away to Charles. The striker was about to run into the box all alone before Yeray grabbed him and was shown a yellow. Slipping would be a trend throughout the match for Yeray, as well as Iñigo Martinez and Berchiche at times.
Beñat nearly doubled the lead in the 17th minute when he curled a shot to the far post with the outside of his boot. The ball bounced off the crossbar to the dismay of the midfielder. A few moments later Iñaki Williams would get the chance to redirect a cross on goal, but it would be deflected out for a corner kick. Eibar refused to stop pushing forward and had another good chance in the 33rd minute from outside the box that forced Iago Herrerín to make a strong save.
The game changed after halftime. Eibar came out with a lot of energy while Athletic seemed content to control the pace of play and defend. Both sides went back and forth but the visitors finally took the momentum in their favor. Mark Cucurella had two good chances, one a long shot that was wide, and the other a diving header at the far post that deflected off of his teammate. José Luis Mendilibar then brought on Sergi Enrich and Gonzalo Escalante at the hour mark, followed by a move from Gaizka Garitano to bring on Mikel San José for Beñat.
At this point the game slowly started to tilt back into Athletic’s favor. The Lions were able to keep more possession and create attacks, but Eibar remained dangerous. With just 15 minutes left to play the Zurigorri were in control once again. Oscar De Marcos, Kenan Kodro, and Williams all had chances in front of goal that were either wide or saved by the keeper.
After four added minutes the final whistle was blown with Athletic having beaten Eibar 1-0 to secure another three points. Like last week’s victory on the road against Huesca, it wasn’t the most attractive performance, but the result is the most important thing. Athletic ended the day just one point shy of Real Sociedad for 7th in the La Liga table and, regardless of how the rest of the games go throughout the weekend, they will finish the weekend just 4 points off of 6th place. The Lions will be back in action next Sunday when they travel to the Mestalla for another big game against Valencia.