Two goals from Raul Garcia and late strike from Mikel Rico lifted Athletic to their fourth consecutive victory on Sunday. It was a dominant performance from the Lions against a weakened Celta side. Ernesto Valverde’s team moved back into sixth place in the league table with only three games remaining on the calendar.
Before the match even began it looked like Athletic would certainly have the upper hand. Due to a big Europa League match on Thursday, Eduardo Berizzo rested some vital players for Celta and it gave their visitors quite an advantage. From the first whistle, Athletic was in complete control and dominated possession. Celta reserved themselves to hitting on the counter, but the duo of Yeray and Aymeric Laporte cut off every chance before it could materialize.
Despite a few chances for Inaki Williams and Inigo Lekue, goals were not coming for Athletic. After an hour of play that would finally change. Benat whipped in a corner kick that met Yeray at the front post. The defender grazed his header to the back post and Raul Garcia was there to tap the ball into the back of the net to give the Lions a deserved 1-0 lead. From there, it already looked like the match was over with the Basques in dominant form.
The halftime whistle eventually came with Athletic still holding on to their 1-0 lead, but it felt disappointing. They had had many chances right in front of goal that they were unable to finish and the match just felt like they should have a few more to show for their efforts. Celta had not caused many problems in the first half, but there was still a desire to extend the lead.
Five minutes into the second half the Lions would finally strike again. A great run from Inaki Williams led to a beautiful shot on goal that was somehow saved. The rebound fell to Raul Garcia who shipped the keeper from close to double the lead and give the Basques a bit of breathing room. With the score now at 2-0 the game was done and dusted and everyone at Balaidos could feel it.
As the game began to die out, Ernesto Valverde made a few changes to see out the result. Those substitutions eventually led to a third and final goal when Inigo Lekue made a blistering run through the defense. After pulling three defenders out of position, he slid a pass over to a surging Mikel Rico who blasted a left-footed shot past the keeper. Athletic celebrated knowing they had won a difficult away fixture and the final whistle came not too long afterwards.
The win saw Athletic jump back in front of Real Sociedad for sixth place and just one point off of Villarreal. It was the Basques’ fourth victory in a row and equaled their point total from last season. Interestingly enough, it was plenty for them to qualify for the Europa League last year, but they will need to keep adding if they want to qualify once again. Athletic will be back in action on Sunday when they travel to take on Alaves in their last Basque Derby of the season. So far, the Lions are unbeaten in Derbies this year.
Athletic Club XI: Kepa Arrizabalaga, Oscar De Marcos, Yeray, Aymeric Laporte, Mikel Balenziaga, Mikel San Jose, Benat (Mikel Rico 78′), Inigo Lekue, Raul Garcia (Ander Iturraspe 82′), Iker Muniain (Aritz Aduriz 85′), Inaki Williams