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Athletic Club-Villarreal PREVIEW

Villarreal travel to face the Leones in their home.

Girona v Villarreal - La Liga Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

Villarreal travel to Bilbao for an important match against Athletic Club.

Our opponents: Most supporters of Los Leones expected there would be some retrenchment or rebuilding after Ernesto Valverde left for Barcelona, but even so, it’s been a rocky start for new coach José Angel Ziganda. He took over the reins after coaching their B side for six years, getting them promoted to the Segunda in the process.

Ziganda hasn’t been helped by circumstances: Iker Muniain tore his ACL in late September and is out for the season, while defender Yeray Alvarez has been undergoing a second round of treatment for testicular cancer. Without these guys, Athletic have relied a lot on Aritz Aduriz; the ageless one just extended his contract, and has four goals, while speedy Iñaki Williams and midfielder Raul Garcia are always dangerous.

Mikel Vesga is suspended for a red card, Beñat and De Marcos are questionable for the Lions.

Villarreal: Villarreal come into this match with some injury concerns; Alvaro Gonzalez has a knock and Samu Castillejo is definitely out. There was some thought that Bruno Soriano might make the squad for the first time this season; we’ll see.

Our diamond midfield has worked quite well, and Bacca and Bakambu are starting to work together up front nicely. The strength of Athletic Club is at CB (Laporte, Nuñez), and in the air—they like to play head tennis against us at times. On the other hand, Fornals and Trigueros can find space to play balls to get behind the Basque side’s defense. It’s always a contrsast of styles.

All-time record: Villarreal are 5-5-7 in Bilbao, while we’ve dominated at home, with an 11-4-2 record in the league. However, in recent years the home sides have dominated this matchup. Villarreal last won in Bilbao in 2011; you have to go back to 2004 for a Los Leones win in the league in Vila-real.

Trivia: Villarreal didn’t score in the league in Bilbao until their fourth match; Martin Palermo was the scorer. The last player to score a goal for Villarreal in (the old) San Mamés was...Nilmar. And the first Villarreal player to score in the new San Mamés? We’re still waiting.

Prediction: Last season we played one of our worst matches of the season here, never threatening the goal. It will be different under Calleja, I think, but I’m expecting a 1-1 draw. It’s hard to keep Aduriz off the scoresheet!