Round 9 preview: Athletic Club away
La Liga Santander Round 9 Preview
Athletic Club (7th) vs Real Valladolid (13th)
San Mamés, Bilbao, Spain
Tuesday 24th September 2019. Kick off 18:00 (UK)
Real Valladolid head to Bilbao to take on Athletic Club on Sunday.
The largest city in the Basque Country is a venue Pucela have traditionally struggled. Their last win there came in March 2004 where they triumphed by a score of 4-1 thanks to an Ivan Losada brace and a goal each from Óscar and Jesús Sánchez.
In fact, Real Valladolid have not won in the beautiful surroundings of the new San Mamés stadium since it opened in 2013.
Athletic Club hold the advantage over Real Valladolid in the head-to-head category. They have played 86 times, with the Basques winning 38, Pucela winning 24 and there have been 24 draws. The balance certainly tips heavily in favour of Athletic Club when they play at home, capturing victory in 30 out of the 43 encounters with 10 draws and outscoring the blanquivioletas by 91 to 36.
Head coach Gaizka Garitano has been in post since December 2018 having plied his trade at Eibar, Real Valladolid (where he took over from Rubi in July 2015 but was sacked in October 2015 with Pucela in last place in the Segunda), Deportivo and Bilbao Athletic, the Basque side’s B-team. Since taking the helm, his overall record with Los Leones is 35 matches played with 17 wins, nine draws and nine losses. Garitano is not the only figure connected with Athletic Club who has ties to Sunday’s opponents. Left-back Mikel Balenziaga signed with Real Valladolid from the red-and-whites in 2011 and returned to the club in 2013 where he has made over 160 appearances since rejoining them. When he played in the Pucela colours, Balenziaga made over 70 league appearances and was part of the successful promotion campaign of 2011/12 when Miroslav Djukic coached them to a third-placed finish before overcoming Córdoba and Alcorcón in the playoffs. He was used sparingly in their return to the top flight, making just six appearances, and left at the end of the season to return to his former club. The last few years has seen him used in a more reserved role. Balenziaga has turned out for Athletic Club 42 times in all competitions since the start of the 2017/18 campaign and has made only one appearance in the league so far this year, a loss to Celta in their previous match. However, he has amassed 248 total matches across nine seasons in red and white and is, therefore, a vastly experienced player.
After two consecutive defeats in their most recent outings, Garitano’s side sit in 7th place in the La Liga standings following a start to the campaign which has been below the high standards that their loyal and passionate following expect.
A historic victory over defending champions Barcelona in front of those very fans got the 2019/20 season off to a flyer in a match which could very well have been lifted from the pages of a movie script. 38-year-old club icon Aritz Aduriz entered the action as a substitute in the 88th minute with the game locked in a tense 0-0 stalemate. Barely 60 seconds had elapsed when Ander Capa sent in a cross from the right hand side and the veteran forward spectacularly scissor-kicked an unstoppable effort past Marc Andre ter Stegen to lift his side to glory.
Since that incredible start, Garitano’s squad have stuttered - especially away from home where they have yet to post a victory on the road. They drew with Getafe 1-1, ended all square at 0-0 with Mallorca, again drew 1-1 at last-placed Leganés. Their most recent away match was a 1-0 loss to Celta. It echoes the struggles they faced outside San Mamés last season as Los Leones managed to record only four away wins all year with a minus 11 goal difference en route to finishing 8th and missing out on Europa League qualifying by six points.
In contrast, Athletic Club have dropped points just once in the confines of the Katedrala; they won the Basque derby over rivals Real Sociedad 2-0 then beat Alavés by the same score before succumbing 1-0 to Valencia. To this point, Athletic have won three out of their four home contests and conceded a solitary goal in that span.
However, Real Valladolid will enter this match with genuine hope of a successful result and will take heart from their previous two meetings with Sunday’s opponents. In Round 17 of last season, Pucela’s first in the top division since 2014, they met at San Mamés in December 2018. Aduriz put the home side ahead in the first half with a cheeky, one-step penalty which caught goalkeeper Jordi Masip unaware. It looked like Athletic were heading for their third consecutive league win over the men from Valladolid, until the dying embers of stoppage time. The home defence failed to let the ball run out of play and Óscar Plano played in Nacho whose scuffed shot was diverted back into the path of Plano via the head of Enes Ünal and the midfielder smashed it home to snatch a late point. In the return fixture, May’s Round 36 meeting at the José Zorrilla, young midfielder Waldo unleashed a scorching strike which was enough to give Real Valladolid a 1-0 win which was crucial in their survival in Spain’s elite league.
In terms of player availability, Garitano will be without left-back Yuri Berchiche who has not recovered in time from a dislocated shoulder suffered at the end of last month against Valencia to be fit, therefore ex-Valladolid man Balenziaga could slot in as his replacement. Ibai Gómez was expected to make it, having returned to training after a brief period out of action where he missed a friendly match scheduled over the international break, but it appears he has been further hampered by muscular discomfort and he will miss the match too. Gorka Guruzeta remains a long-term injury casualty following a cruciate ligament injury sustained in April. The full Athletic Club squad reads as:
Oscar De Marcos
Pucela coach Sergio González will have been heartened by the return to training of defensive midfielder Luismi, who missed the entirety of last season, but he is still some way from being match fit. Midfielder Jorge De Frutos, on loan from Real Madrid, makes it into the squad for the first time since joining in the summer. Up front, Sandro Ramírez picked up an injury in training during the international hiatus and will miss approximately two weeks which will spell the return to the starting eleven of fellow striker Ünal. To bolster the attacking options, Ecuadorian forward Stiven Plaza is included in the squad following a scattering of appearances for the B-team, the Promesas. He remains an unknown quantity since becoming Ronaldo Nazario’s first signing when he took over as President. The full blanquivioleta squad for Sunday’s match is as follows:
Jorge De Frutos
Don’t forget, you can hear more build-up to this match on the ‘Inside Athletic’ podcast, where I was lucky enough to be invited on as a guest to chat with host James Etxegorri about Sunday’s contest. We chat previous encounters, key players and tactical areas and give our predictions on how we see the match unfolding. Check it out here and, if you are interested in Athletic Club or just great football content and analysis you can follow them on their Twitter account @InsideAthletic or check out their website over at insideathletic.com!