Athletic Club looked quite different on Wednesday when they hosted Villarreal at the San Mamés. After a demanding game against Real Betis over the weekend and a difficult matchup with Barcelona in just a few days, Eduardo Berizzo rotated his squad which definitely affected things to start the game. The Lions struggled to string passes together and gave away possession in dangerous areas a few times.
After about a ten minutes of action Athletic began to settle into a rhythm. Ander Capa and Yuri Berchiche were able to extend the field while Raúl García and Iker Muniain tried to build through the middle. There was a bit of drama in the 16th minute when Iñaki Williams was taken down at the top of the box. The referee waved play on the players and fans were not happy.
Capa had the first real chance of the match for Athletic in the 30th minute when Berchiche found him in the box. His shot was pushed just wide of the goal and that is when Villarreal began to attack more. The visitors were content to hit on the counter and had the best chance of the half when a pass found Pablo Fornals inside the box with a clear path to goal. He struck a rocket to the far side but Unai Simón was able to make the beautiful diving save to keep the clean sheet alive. Both sides then turned their attention to the second half with adjustments necessary to break the deadlock.
Iker Muniain moved into a more central role to begin the second half and Athletic continued to control possession. Villarreal were pinned in their own half, but were happy to spring forward when wining back possession. After a few dangerous counters the visitors would finally be rewarded for their efforts when Pablo Fornals caught Unai Simón off his line. The Villarreal midfielder blasted a shot from the center of the field to stun Athletic who then found themselves down 1-0.
Berizzo responded by bringing on Unai López in hopes of providing more creativity, but Villarreal now felt the momentum. The Yellow Submarine were awarded a corner kick and Funes Mori was able to climb over the back of Iñigo Martinez to head the ball past Simón to double the lead. Athletic were unhappy with the play which was then reviewed by VAR and the goal stood.
At this point, with Gorka Guruzeta and Iñigo Córdoba now on the field, Athletic went into full attacking mode in hopes of pulling a goal back. This led to more counter attacking from Villarreal. Toko Ekambi was played down the left wing and was able to beat his defender and round the keeper for an easy finish to make it 3-0 and give the visitors the win. It was the first time Villarreal have won at the new San Mamés and also sees Athletics unbeaten streak come to an end. The Lions will now turn their attention to this weekend’s meeting against Barcelona.