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Villarreal at Athletic Bilbao: La Liga Preview

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Into the Lions Den.

Club Atletico de Madrid v Villarreal CF - La Liga Photo by Diego Souto/ Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

It’s 7th vs 11th in La Liga, on the road, in a game that is extremely important to our European chances (aren’t they all?). Athletic Club can enter the Europa League by winning this year’s Copa Del Rey, but if they do, that means only the top six finishers in the league will get European slots, leaving 7th on the outside looking in.

The San Mamés is one of the toughest places to play in all of Spain, this one will not be easy at all. We are going to need great performances from both our players and our manager to get the result we want.

Our Opponents

There are only three clubs in the history of the Spanish top flight to never be relegated: Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Athletic Club. They have managed this despite their well known policy of only signing players from the Basque region (which overlays the French and Spanish borders). In the era of modern football they’ve accomplished this by refusing to negotiate with clubs who come to buy their players (requiring them to pay transfer fees) and by having a good enough academy that there’s always a next man up. A perfect example of this is their goalkeeper situation. Unai Simón should, in my opinion, be the starting keeper for the Spanish national team this summer at the Euros. He’s been fantastic. He also was out on loan in the Segunda division when Athletic sold Kepa for a record fee. That kind of depth allows for continued success through the years, as evinced by the fact that this club has 23 Copa Del Rey titles, more than Real Madrid.

Their danger man, as it were, is Inaki Williams. I personally don’t rate Inaki. He’s a forward that doesn’t really create and doesn’t really score. What he does do is run. He has a great two way work rate, he’s fast as lightning, and he’s a consistent outlet for their buildup play. Keeping an eye on Williams is the key to shutting down their offense. The fact that he’s not that great is why a team with him as the key to their offense is in 11th.

All time we have a 13-7-8 record against Athletic Club, including a 0-0 draw with them at home last November.

Villarreal

Rubén Peña was the preferred right back last match, and I think that’ll continue, though we need to be more defensively solid than we were against Atleti. I don’t expect the lineup to be much changed, and I frankly can’t decide if that makes me happy or upset. Honestly, we had a pretty good first 45 last week, and if we play like that all night against this Athletic Club side we should win. Peña and Trigueros are both one yellow card away from suspension, so if by chance we have a solid lead late in this one don’t be surprised if one or both of them take one so that they can sit out the Leganes match.

The next five league matches we face someone below us in the table every single week. It’s crucial that we make hay while the sun is shining and come away with at least 10-12 points in these matches.

Prediction

My confidence level in Calleja just isn’t very high right now. I think we’re looking at a draw. 1-1.