Athletic Club played in their fourth friendly of the preseason on Thursday when they traveled to Belgium to take on Club Brugge. The Basques once again dominated defensively and were led to victory by a Raul Garcia brace. Unlike the previous preseason matches, Cuco Ziganda chose to stick heavily with his starting lineup, making only one change towards the end of the game. With Dinamo Bucuresti waiting next week, the Lions showed they have been preparing well.
The match began with both sides trading break aways and looking to establish some form of control. The Athletic defense stood strong and didn’t allow their hosts any truly dangerous looks, but Iago Herrerin did have to deal with a couple of chances. He put in a remarkable performance to keep yet another clean sheet this summer. A very special moment came when the Brugge fans stood to applaud Yeray in the 27th minute (the number he wore last season) as they showed support for his battle against testicular cancer. After a while, the Lions were able to settle into possession and slowly started to wear down the Belgians. Just before halftime they would get their reward.
After 41 minutes of play, the opening goal would come from a fast break when Aritz Aduriz was released down the left wing. He raced a defender and then cut back inside several yards away from the corner of the box. Seeing Raul Garcia streaking in, he put in a curling cross that found the midfielder perfectly. Garcia volleyed his effort at goal, beating the keeper low and away. The Lions were up 1-0 going into the break and from that point on wanted to dominate possession and kill off the game.
Ziganda made no changes in the second half and it was clear that he had told his team to keep possession and be wise with their attacks. Only players like Iker Muniain and Markel Susaeta tried to directly create anything dangerous, but even that would help in a big way. At the hour mark Muniain was brought down in the box, earning his second penalty of the preseason. Raul Garcia stepped up and beat the keeper to double the lead for the Basques. He would also be shown a straight red card later in the match which forced Athletic to play with ten men.
While down a man, Athletic had to face an onslaught of attacks from Club Brugge. Thankfully, the defense held strong for the most part. Herrerin was called into duty a few times but put on a brilliant display. The final whistle finally sounded with the Lions having won 2-0 to keep their third straight clean sheet of the summer. In fact, Athletic has yet to concede a single goal while at full strength. The players have said that Cuco Ziganda has stressed defense in training and it is definitely showing.
Many have suggested that this starting lineup may be the same one that will face Dinamo Bucuresti next Thursday in Europa League play. However, Inaki Williams may be ready to return to the lineup, but only time will tell. Also, it was interesting to see Beñat and Mikel Vesga start together once again as they have done in every other friendly game. It is looking more and more like Ziganda may be favoring Vesga’s versatility in the lineup. Iker Muniain and Aymeric Laporte also put in strong performances and stood out for Athletic. The attention will not turn to Real Valladolid in tomorrow’s game leading up to next’s week Europa League clash in Romania.
Athletic Club XI: Iago Herrerin, Oscar De Marcos, Xabi Etxeita, Aymeric Laporte, Mikel Balenziaga, Beñat, Mikel Vesga, Iker Muniain, Raúl Garcia, Markel Susaeta, Aritz Aduriz (Kike Sola 82′)