Coming into Sunday’s Basque Derby Athletic knew exactly what was on the line. The Lions were unbeaten to start the season, had only conceding one goal through the opening four matches, and would go top of the La Liga table with a win over Alavés. Leading up to the game the players were full of confidence but understood that it wouldn’t be an easy game.
Once again, Athletic were fabulous playing in front of their own fans. From the opening whistle the Lions dominated possession and forced Alavés to turn the ball over with an intense, high press. Despite having firm control of the game, goals weren’t coming for Athletic but that all changed in the 33rd minute when Ibai Gómez whipped a low cross to Iñaki Williams who was running into the box.
It looked as though Williams would easily score from point-blank range, but was taken down by a defender and skipped his shot wide. The striker screamed on the ground at the referee who waved play on. As expected, VAR intervened and after a review a penalty was awarded. Raúl García stepped up to the line and beat the goalkeeper to give Athletic a thoroughly deserved 1-0 lead before halftime.
The second half began in similar fashion with Alavés unable to string passes together as they were choked by the pressure. Like hungry lions stalking their prey, Athletic looked deadly every time they took the ball forward and created chance after chance. Iker Muniain and Gómez both had great opportunities in the box but put their shots wide while Williams continued to wreak havoc with his pace and passing and even bent a sublime shot off the crossbar.
Minutes later Yuri Berchiche whiffed on a volley which was immediately followed by a volley from Gómez that curved just one the crossbar. Another goal was surely coming as the Lions closed in. Williams would be at the center of it all as Athletic finally doubled their lead in the 72nd minute. The striker surged past a defender and send in a low cross to Gómez who saw his shot miraculously saved by the goalkeeper. Muniain quickly responded to put the rebound into the back of the net to make it 2-0.
Athletic didn’t turn off the pressure and could have scored more goals, but the match would eventually end 2-0 with the Zurigorri taking all three points to move to the top of the La Liga table. It’s been an unbelievable start for Athletic who will travel to Leganés on Wednesday for a midweek match before hosting Valencia on Saturday. It will be up to Gaizka Garitano to get the rotations right, but so far everything the Mister has touched has turned to gold and more of the same is expected.