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Villarreal—Athletic Club PREVIEW

Time for Villarreal to rebound from their Halloween horror show in Eibar. But it won’t be easy.

Villarreal CF v Athletic Club - La Liga Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

Villarreal return home to the Cerámica and take on Athletic Club in an early kickoff (keep in mind, US folks, you need to remember to set your clocks back, so what was a 6AM kickoff in California is now 5AM).

Athletic Club have been a bit of an enigma so far this season. Maybe it’s because I tipped them as a top-four darkhorse, I don’t know, but they have struggled mightily on the road, with three draws and two losses in five matches so far, while at home, they’re 4-1-1 with victories over Barcelona and Real Sociedad.

Their Basque-only policy and strong cantera system mean that Los Leones develop their talent largely in-house, but don’t have that many opportunities to spend big in the transfer market. They were able to do that in 2018, buying Yuri Berchiche and Iñigo Martinez, and those two are mainstays of the defense, while up front, Iker Muniain and Iñaki Williams are the duo that get the headlines, but don’t forget Raul Garcia.

Coach Garitano sets his team up in a 4-2-3-1 with Williams as the one, Muniain—Garcia—Cordoba as the three. And his back line of Capa, Yeray, Martinez and Berchiche, ahead of Simón in goal, is excellent. Athletic have only conceded seven goals so far, second only to Atleti. But, five of those were on the road.

On the surface of it, this is a team that Villarreal should have a tough time with. They attack down the flanks well, they win balls in the air well, they counterattack well. But what is it about this team that makes them so much better at home? They have averaged only 8 shots per game away, 13 at home.

Villarreal have to pick themselves up after the disappointment of giving up a late goal at Eibar. It was not a good game for us—the rotations didn’t work, but Eibar’s high pressure led to numerous scoring chances and only Sergio Asenjo kept us in the game, to be honest. It was a pity towaste a finegoalkeeping performance and a great goal from Gerard, but you can’t allow a team to have 25 shots on goal (8 on target) and expect to win.

Alberto Moreno is still out so Qunitillà must go at left back, but Ruben Peña may be able to start at right back. But otherwise, we should be back to our regular lineup, with Toko Ekambi, Gerard, Moi, Anguissa, Iborra, Santi all starting, and Samu, Trigueros, and Ontiveros all available off the bench.

All-time record: We’ve done pretty well against the Lions in the league: 11-5-3 at home, 6-6-7 on the road. However, we haven’t won at home against them since a 3-1 win in April 2017, under Escribà; we lost the next year 3-1, and drew 1-1 last season.

Prediction: This game worries me. Simply, this is not a team that we can match up well with right now. Their most dangerous player—Muniain—is in excellent form, and Quintillà is going to have a hard time with him. I’ll predict a 1-1 draw, but I can see the visitors winning as they did last year. Of course, it depends to some degree on which version of Los Leones show up—I’d be happy if their “home lions, away pussycats” form continues awhile longer!

Three points would be big here, as four of the six teams above us play each other this weekend. Let’s do this!!