MARK O'HAIRE'S (@MarkOHaire) European NAP heads to La Liga for Sunday night's clash between Athletic Bilbao and Villarreal.
Athletic Bilbao v Villarreal | Sunday 19th November 2017, 19:45 | Sky Sports
After four seasons in Bilbao, Ernesto Valverde moved on to Barcelona in the summer having kept Athletic in the top seven throughout his reign at the famous Basque club. Cuco Ziganda was the man Les Leones turned to.
Having been in charge of the club’s B-team and youth teams in a six-year spell, Athletic’s hierarchy and supporters had hoped the transition would be seamless.
After passing unbeaten through their first six games in La Liga and in European competition, something has gone horrible wrong. Bilbao have since won just once in eight league outings and slipped to 15th in the standings.
Athletic have been beaten in six of their last eight La Liga encounters, including each of their last three, whilst Les Leones have completely lost their attacking spark and creativity. The Basques have fired blanks in three of those eight domestic tussles with their last five fixtures bringing only four goals.
Aritz Aduriz signed a new deal this week and remains the hosts' main goalscoring threat with the likes of Inaki Williams and Raul Garcia failing to function in the final-third. The latter pair desperately need to start contributing more.
Team news and trends against Athletic
Many have pinpointed the season-ending injury to Iker Muniain as key to Athletic’s downturn but Ziganda will also be without the suspended Mikel Vesga, plus injured Oscar de Marcos and Benat Etxebarria. The hosts have lost six of their last eight without Benat and it leaves Ander Iturraspe as the hosts only fit playmaker option for Sunday night.
Traditionally Les Leones have been strong operators in Bilbao; last season the home side were only beaten by Barcelona and Real Madrid (W13-D4-L2) at San Mames but under Ziganda they’ve W2-D1-L2 with only Alaves, Eibar and Leganes scoring fewer home goals.
The rookie boss said, “I’m strong; I believe” when asked if he’s capable of turning the ship around following defeat in Vigo last time out but I remain unconvinced. Athletic have created the fourth fewest chances when welcoming Spanish opposition and they may well come unstuck here against Villarreal.
Athletic may shoot admiring glances at Villarreal following the Yellow Submarine’s recent upsurge in results and performances since sacking Fran Escriba. The team from Castellon have pocketed four victories from five unbeaten matches under Javier Calleja and now kept clean sheets in eight of their most recent 12 outings.
With Jaume Costa and Manu Trigueros both back, the visitors should be well capable of avoiding defeat here. The guests have scored at least twice in six of their last eight with Cedric Bakambu scoring eight league goals in 10 matches and forming a formidable partnership alongside Carlos Bacca in attack.
Villarreal recently came away with a point from a road trip at Atletico Madrid, have won half their last 18 away games and recorded W7-D3-L3 at bottom-half opponents since the start of last season so supporting the Yellow Submarine at odds-against 101/100 from a +0.25 Asian Handicap start appeals.
Athletic Bilbao v Villarreal – Villarreal +0.25 Asian Handicap (101/100 Bet365)