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Athletic Club-Villarreal PREVIEW

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We seldom come back with much from San Mamés.

Los Leones S.R. Sidarth

Villarreal travel to Bilbao to take on Athletic Club; over the years the Submarine has dominated the Basque side in Vila-real, but has struggled away.

Athletic Club usually don’t do a lot in the summer, but the sale of keeper Kepa to Chelsea for a ridiculous amount of money (€80m roughly) let them buy a couple of Basque defenders, Iñigo Martinez from Real Sociedad (€32m) and Yuri Berchiche from Paris Saint Germain (€24m). Berchiche deserves some sort of recognition: he’s played for Real Union Irún—a powerful Basque club in the early days before la Liga—and since for Eibar, Real Sociedad and now Athletic Club. Is that some sort of record?

In spite of the defensive reinforcements, Athletic Club haven’t kept a clean sheet yet, while in midfield and attack, the team is starting to transition to life after Aritz Aduriz. Iker Muinain and Iñaki Williams are a pacy duo, and if you remember our playoff matches against Athletic’s second team last year, a couple of those players have been promoted to the first team—Gorka Guruzeta (22, striker) and Peru Nolaskoain (19, midfielder) among them. Plus Unai Simón, who has taken over as keeper.

Eduardo Berizzo, who had great success with Celta and not as much with Sevilla, took over the reins as coach. He’s mostly played a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-1-4-1, with Williams as the lone striker in either case. Susaeta will miss this match, having been red-carded last time.

Form has been OK, though throwing away a 2-0 lead against Huesca at home and letting a two goal after 18 minutes against Betis slip away (both ended in 2-2 draws) suggests some defensive frailties. Through a quirk of the schedule, Bilbao will have played four of its first five matches at home once this one is concluded, which could come back to haunt them later.

Villarreal: Defensively the team has improved, but scoring remains a concern, mostly because last year’s strength, midfield, has become our weak link. We’ve replaced pacy guys who could get round a defense (Cheryshev, Castillejo) with players who are more technical (Santi Cazorla, Alfonso Pedraza) and so far, we haven’t been able to unlock defenses to get the ball to Bacca/Ekambi/Gerard often enough.

The injury to Santy Caceres has meant players like Fornals or Trigueros have been less able to get forward, though Funes Mori playing in the pivote seems to be helping that issue. Right now, though, it’s hard to see this team scoring lots of goals.

Team call: Pretty much as expected, though Dani Raba comes back in (there are 19 listed). S. Asenjo; Mario Gaspar; Álvaro; Funes Mori; Víctor Ruiz; Gerard; P. Fornals; Bacca; Sansone; J. Costa; Andrés Fdez.; M. Trigueros; M. Llambrich; Pedraza; Toko Ekambi; S. Cazorla; Iturra; Raba; M. Layún.

All-time record: Villarreal are 16-10-10 in league play, but only 5-6-7 on the road. We have never won at the new San Mamés; our last win against Athletic Club was back in March 2011, 1-0 courtesy of a Marco Rubén header.

Prediction: I would love to see us pick up even a point from this, but my crystal ball says uh-uh. 2-0 to the home side.