Athletic Club will begin preparing for the upcoming season when they face off with FC Basel on Wednesday in their first preseason friendly of the summer. The Lions have been invited to take part in the Festival of the Alps in Switzerland and will also play matches against FC Sion and Fenerbahce during the week. Like Basel, Athletic is beginning the new campaign under a new manager in Cuco Ziganda who is looking for a strong start in his debut season.
The wait is finally over. Athletic Club football has returned. After a week of training at Lezama the Lions have traveled to Switzerland where they will take part in the Festival of the Alps, playing in three friendlies during their eight-day stay. On Wednesday they will play their first game of the summer when they take on Swiss League champions FC Basel at Stade du Christ-Roi in Lens. This will also be Cuco Ziganda’s first match in charge of Athletic Club so there is a lot to be excited about.
The Lions come into this game needing to get match fit and ready as soon as possible. They will play the first leg of their Europa League qualifier on 27 July so there is no time to waste. Athletic scheduled several difficult matches like this one to ensure that their players are facing strong competition before the season officially begins in less than three weeks. Meanwhile, Basel come into the game led by new manager Raphael Wicky. Like Ziganda, Wicky coached Basel’s U21 team before being promoted this summer. His side has won the last eight Swiss League championships and they don’t want that streak to end.
Trying to gauge who will start or play is nearly impossible. Ziganda currently has 27 players at his disposal with Yeray, Kepa Arrizabalaga, and Inaki Williams all missing out on the trip. The manager has been very outspoken about wanting to see everyone in action before he starts making any decisions on trimming down the squad. He will likely throw several different combinations together over the course of the preseason, saving the strongest lineup until just before the Europa League qualifier on 27 July.
If training is anything to go by, we may be able to gather some hints about player combinations that Ziganda may use. For instance, he has lined up Unai Nunez alongside Aymeric Laporte in every defensive drill so far this summer. He could simply be trying to push Nunez, or perhaps he sees him as the best option to fill in for Yeray while he is out undergoing chemotherapy. Additionally, he has worked Ager Aketxe solely as a central attacking midfielder behind Raul Garcia which could be his role for the upcoming season. Players like Unai Lopez, Javi Eraso, Mikel Rico, and Mikel Vesga will also need to use these games to prove that they deserve a place in the squad this year because space is limited in midfield.
Basel is a perfect test for Athletic to begin the preseason. They have been a perennial Champions League team and have the quality to really push the Lions. As always, results mean very little during the summer but they can be a great boost to morale. The most important thing is for the players to be ready for the match on the 27th, but fans will also be hoping to see goals and a victory in Ziganda’s first match. Regardless, Wednesday’s game again Basel promises to be entertaining and exciting if for no other reason than the fact that Athletic Club football has returned.
After Wednesday’s match against Basel, Athletic will then face FC Sion and Fenerbahce as part of the Festival of the Alps. Once they return home, the Lions will also have games against Club Brugge, Real Valladolid, CF Reus, and Liverpool. They will also play Alaves in the Basque Cup final on 12 August before the La Liga season officially begins. It is shaking up to be a very busy summer for Athletic Club and Cuco Ziganda wants his team ready to go when the games start to count.