After a disappointing scoreless draw to open up the La Liga season, Athletic will be traveling down the road to Eibar on Sunday for their first Basque derby of the new campaign. With only one point in the table so far the Lions are hoping to earn a big win and carry over their fine derby form from last season. On Friday Athletic were officially drawn into the Europa League group stage and, with that now behind them, can finally fully focus on their domestic league.
Kuko Ziganda’s team has been playing really well since the start of the season and are yet to lose a game. That being said, last weekend’s scoreless draw against Getafe was not how they wanted to kick off the La Liga season, especially at the San Mamés. Now they will be facing a difficult trip to Ipurua as they seek to get their first domestic win of the season. With this being the first Basque derby of the season, Eibar will not be giving away anything easily so this one is going to be very difficult for both sides. History is on Athletic’s side, but derbies at Ipurua are never easy.
Eibar, on the other hand, had had a brilliant start to the new La Liga calendar after winning their first game against Malaga last weekend. It was a very tense game that only saw a 1-0 scoreline, but Eibar put on a strong showing and will be looking to build on that form at home this Sunday. They are always up for a derby against Athletic which will only make this meeting more intense and full of drama. Eibar will be without Pedro Leon, Fran Rico, and Anaitz Arbilla due to injuries but should still field a very strong and capable lineup.
Meanwhile, Athletic will still be without Oscar De Marcos who suffered a sprained ankle in last weekend’s match against Getafe. He is likely to miss three to four weeks, but Athletic could see the return of Ander Iturraspe who recently returned to regular training after recovering from a muscle injury in his left leg. Replacing De Marcos will be important. So far Iñigo Lekue has featured at right-back, but he cannot play in every game. Ziganda could choose to give Eneko Bóveda his first minutes of the season on Sunday but that remains to be seen. Raúl García should also return to the squad after missing Thursday’s game against Panathinaikos with a fever and flu-like symptoms.
If history can tell us anything it is that meetings between these two can be unpredictable, but Athletic has had slightly better success over the years. In the last six meetings the Lions have won four times compared to Eibar’s one. Athletic have won the last three encounters, including the one at Ipurua last season. Interestingly enough, in the last six matches between these two at Ipurua at least one club was kept scoreless. After not scoring a single goal against Getafe last week, Athletic definitely do not want the same to happen again at Ipurua.
For Athletic to win this game they will have to win a few tactical battles and it all starts with limiting Dani Garcia. The Eibar midfielder is the creative engine that ties everything together and can be deadly when left alone to create. Athletic’s midfield will want to control possession and press without the ball to dictate pace of play and that could be exactly what it takes to keep Garcia from causing problems. Still, the 27-year-old is also capable of doing wonderful things with his deep passing ability so the defense must be ready.
Additionally, Eibar love to attack down the wings, as do Athletic Club. The fullbacks for both clubs will play a big role in the outcome of the game and it will be important for wingers to track back and help out defensively as well. Not having Oscar De Marcos will be difficult for Athletic but hopefully Lekue or Boveda will be able to fill the void and understand just how important their positioning will be against Eibar. On the other side, Mikel Balenziaga has been great all season and will be looking to shut down the Eibar right wing that includes Ander Capa and Rubén Peña.
Sunday’s match is very difficult to predict and should be a tight fixture. History says that Athletic should be able to walk away with three points, but winning at Ipurua is never easy. Kuko Ziganda’s side is hungry for their first win in La Liga and clubs always turn up the pressure in a Basque derby. Regardless of the outcome, this match is going to be immensely entertaining and one that fans will not want to miss.
Projected Athletic Club XI: Kepa Arrizabalaga, Eneko Bóveda, Unai Nuñez, Aymeric Laporte, Mikel Balenziaga, Beñat, Mikel Vesga, Iker Muniain, Raúl García, Iñaki Williams, Aritz Aduriz