Athletic Club will play their second friendly of the preseason on Saturday when they take on FC Sion as part of their Festival of the Alps. After a difficult 3-2 loss to FC Basel on Wednesday, the Lions are looking for a strong showing as they continue preparing for the start of the new season. Sion is a growing team who will playing in front of their own fans so this one promises to be an entertaining affair.
The Lions enter Saturday’s game coming off of an odd 3-2 defeat to FC Basel in their first friendly of the summer. Mikel Balenziaga was sent off with over an hour left to play and being a man down clearly altered Cuco Ziganda’s rotational plan for letting as many players as possible see the field. Still, Athletic managed to score two goals and were even leading 2-1 late into the second half before their opponents were able to take control near the end of the game. There were certainly flashes of brilliance from some players and fans were excited to see Sabin Merino and Kike Sola on the score sheet.
With it being the preseason it is nearly impossible to predict a starting lineup. Ziganda actually trained with a lineup the day before facing Basel and ended up fielding those eleven players to start the game. Still, there were a handful of players that did not get to play in the opening friendly who will be expected to have minutes against Sion. Ager Aketxe, Javi Eraso, Unai Lopez, Mikel San Jose, Asier Villalibre, and Unai Simon all missed out on the action. Additionally, Enric Saborit left the team due to personal reasons which haven’t been revealed and will miss the match. That means that Inigo Lekue will probably function as a left-back so someone like Mikel San Jose will possibly deputize as a center-back so that Ziganda can fully rotate his players.
On the other side of the pitch, FC Sion is an exciting team that has fans very optimistic after a fourth place finish in the Swiss league last season. They will be looking for an even better campaign and have hopes of breaking into the top two which would give them a berth in the Champions League. However, they will have to continue growing without some important pieces. For instance, Chadrac Akolo lead the team in scoring last season with 15 goals but joined Stuttgart this summer. They will have to find a way to replace his production, but they have made several moves to bring in young talent in multiple positions.
After an opening match against FC Basel, facing Sion should be a more relaxed friendly, especially if Athletic keep all eleven players on the pitch. Still, Sion is a Europa League club and will be a strong test for the Lions. It will be interesting to see if Ziganda continues testing some combinations or chooses to mix things up entirely. He wants to see everyone in action before making decisions on the squad so there will likely be wholesale changes after halftime yet again. As always, results do not matter in preseason matches, but Athletic fans are hoping to see the first victory of the Ziganda era.
Confirmed Athletic Club XI: Iago Herrerin, Oscar De Marcos, Mikel San Jose, Aymeric Laporte, Inigo Lekue, Benat, Mikel Vesga, Sabin Merino, Ager Aketxe, Markel Susaeta, Aritz Aduriz