The Athletic players and fans knew how important Sunday’s game was against Real Betis. Since Gaizka Garitano took over as the manager the Lions haven’t lost in La Liga and have climbed out of the relegation zone. A win at the San Mamés meant that Athletic would be just 3 points off of 7th place and the team spent the entire week preparing for what they were calling another final.
It would only take 13 minutes for Athletic to get their first chance of the game when Mikel San José made an interception and played the ball wide to Oscar De Marcos. The right-winger sent a low cross in front of goal and Iker Muniain tried to direct it on goal but it just skimmed the outside netting. Athletic felt as though they should be ahead and they responded quickly.
In the 20th minute Dani García stepped up to intercept a pass and immediately gave the ball to Iñaki Williams. The striker sent it wide to De Marcos who once again found Muniain and this time the midfielder didn’t miss. He settled the pass while also putting the ball onto his left foot and shot between the legs of a defender and into the back of the net to give the Basques a deserved 1-0 lead.
Athletic nearly doubled their lead three minutes later when a low cross from De Marcos was going to find Iñaki Williams alone at the far post, but the keeper dove on the ball. At this point Betis tried to take back some of the momentum with physical play. San José was forced to commit a foul when the visitors had a 2-on-1 and he was booked for the infraction.
De Marcos was constantly providing good balls into the box but nearly turned goalscorer in the 33rd minute when Ander Capa found him in front of goal. Unfortunately, his shot was high and Betis tried to attack quickly. Diego Lainez tried a shot from outside of the box and forced Iago Herrerín to make a great save. Athletic went into the halftime break with their 1-0 lead intact and clearly playing better football, but there was still 45 minutes of football left to play at the Cathedral.
The match became much more physical and tense in the second half. Real Betis quickly settled into their possession-based style of football and Athletic were forced to defend for long stretches. The Basques did have a few chances though as long balls were sent forward for Iñaki Williams to run on to. Twice those plays resulted in the ball being played into the box to Muniain but the Betis defense held their ground.
With just 15 minutes left the play the energy in the San Mamés could be felt by everyone as Betis sent attack after attack looking for the equalizer. Things got even more difficult when De Marcos was shown a straight red card in the 83rd minute for a challenge from behind. Betis continued to attack. Iago Herrerín made a diving save on a free kick, the Lions cleared the ball every time they won back possession, and after three minutes of stoppage time the whistle was blown with Athletic having won 1-0.
Sunday’s victory saw Athletic move into a tie for 10th in the La Liga table. The Zurigorri are now just 3 points off of 7th in the standings, and 5 points off of 6th place. They will face yet another challenge on Saturday when they travel to the Anoeta for a Basque Derby against Real Sociedad. Gaizka Garitano will have to start preparing immediately as he will be without Oscar De Marcos and Yuri Berchiche who will be suspended for the massive fixture.