We haven’t beaten Athletic Club since 2018. Just stop for a moment and consider how radically different the world is now compared to then. We travel to one of the fiercest grounds in Spain, desperately needing a win, and we are facing a team that we haven’t beaten since September of that year, in a match where our goalscorers are.. prepare yourself... Pablo Fornals, Ramiro Funes Mori, and Karl Toko Ekambi.
Under Marcelino, Athletic Club are- to no one’s surprise- an absolute bother to try and play. They sit 9th in the table, and like us have only lost once, drawing four times. They’ve only scored seven goals so far this season, with only Inaki Williams and Inigo Martinez in double figures. In our history, we’ve drawn Athletic Club seven times, five of those by a 1-1 scoreline. It’s the second most draws we have against a single opponent. (We have the most draws against Espanyol, a tally we’ve already added to this season).
One tactical note to keep an eye on, Athletic Club do not attempt a ton of crosses- middle of the road in La Liga- but they complete more crosses than all but five other teams in the division, so their is danger coming from those kinds of situations. They’ve created chances very well so far this season but have not been great at converting and we will be hoping that they do not revert to the mean against us.
Our scoreline against Young Boys, as I assume you all know, was flattering. I’ll have to get on a pod with Allen here soon to have a full length conversation about Gero because I truly am convinced at this point that he’s become a very good keeper under Emery’s system. It was wonderful to see Samu on the pitch and scoring with his first UCL touch, and I’m hoping he’ll develop into a half hour or so super sub- perhaps we can see some of that tomorrow. We’ve had a long enough break between these matches that, besides changing out the injured Albiol, I don’t expect too much rotation.
There’s also a very real discussion to be had at our left back position. Alberto has been very good in stretches and Pedraza probably hasn’t had quite the same level that he peaked at during last season.