Analysis: Athletic Club to reveal their true Champions League credentials in October
October 2022 could very well be the busiest football month we have ever seen. Only Friday the 21st doesn’t feature a Spanish side in action, with La Liga or European competition to look forward to every day, that aside. In an attempt to complete the group stages of all three tiers of continental football before the World Cup, participants will play midweek every week this month, once in the league and three European matches.
Could this hugely packed fixture list pave the way for those not competing in Europe to capitalize on their league rivals’ overworked players? We explore the possibility that current Spanish side Athletic Club will take advantage of this, having failed to qualify for any continental competition last season.
Throwback to a year ago and if you were to tell an Athletic fan that in a single month they will face Sevilla (A), Atlético Madrid (H), Getafe (A), Barcelona (A ) and Villareal (H), it would have left them scared of what was to come. A topsy-turvy season took them to a respectable 8th place under Marcelino Garcia Toral, who decided to step down in June.
This opened the door for former player and manager, Ernesto Valverde, to return to San Mamés for his third term. Since being reinstated, Athletic have gone from strength to strength. Sitting well in third place, they lost just one league game – their best start to a campaign in the 21st century.
Dissect those five matches through the lens of this revived 2022-23 squad, and you see a real opportunity for Ernesto Valverde’s side to cement themselves among the top four contenders.
They have taken no prisoners in recent games, beating Almería four times over the weekend, as well as Elche and Cadiz on four occasions. Rayo Vallecano escaped with only three cashed. The deadly combination emerging between the Iñaki brothers and Nico Williams, along with mature performances from starlet Oihan Sancet, has meant only Real Madrid and Barcelona have outclassed them this season.
Along with Valverde’s return, hectic football has also come to San Mamés, and the fans all agree. The average attendance for the first five home games of this season saw an increase of 3,500 people per game compared to the last five home games of last season.
Tough or tired opposition?
A key factor in Bilbao’s potential success this month will be that apart from Getafe, all the teams mentioned above are involved in European competition and will therefore play 8 games during this period.
Looking closer, we see a first game against Sevilla – in crisis mode – who will face Borussia Dortmund on either side of this game. A game in Andalucia, which given recent relentless attacking displays from Valverde’s side, could lead to a string of goals through Sevilla’s exhausting defense at the Sanchez-Pizjuan.
After that, San Mamés will host Atlético Madrid, a team that hasn’t won away to Bilbao since 2017. A real opportunity for Athletic to extend that record awaits, with Atleti looking to break their ground. way out of a sticky Champions League group in the week before their trip to the North.
Then Getafe, which is perhaps the easiest game Athletic Club will face in October on paper, but recent meetings between these two teams have resulted in draws on three of the last five occasions. . Although, this season you would probably think the Williams brothers and company have too much for their Madrid-based rivals who have already conceded over 2 goals per 90 minutes on average this season.
Let’s move on to the toughest game on Los Leones’ list – a trip to Camp Nou to face current La Liga leaders Barcelona. They will have to hope that Valverde’s former club will have encountered an obstacle by then. So far very good for Xavi Hernández’s side but this game could be a good opportunity to rest some key players after the trials and tribulations that two clashes with Inter Milan and an El Clasico will put them through before that Athletic can’t do it. Not to mention a crucial Champions League game against Bayern Munich looming on the horizon in the days that follow. Athletic have failed to register a victory in the Catalan capital for 21 years, so the Basque side will be eager to put that behind them this time around.
To round off a tough but potentially game-changing month of October, Los Vascos will be looking to scare Villareal on the eve of Halloween. Against another club which will be in action across the continent, Athletic have the added advantage that their visitors will come out of a game on Thursday night in their pursuit of Europa Conference League success.
An advantage before the World Cup on the horizon?
All in all, October could be the month we start to take Athletic Club’s exciting debut seriously. A maximum of 15 points is on offer and doubling the numbers is a seriously achievable goal. Theoretically, ten points from those five matches would send them into November with 26 points, putting them top of the league at this same stage last season.
Sure, they’ll need to maintain their impressive high-scoring form, but they may also need a bit of fortune and hope their busy opponents decide to rest key players for their European adventures. Could we see a gap starting to widen between this historic Basque club and the rest of the top four World Cup hopefuls? Either way, October will be a pivotal month.
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