The lowdown on Athletic Club

The lowdown on Athletic Club

A closer look at FC Barcelona's opponents in Sunday's La Liga clash at Spotify Camp Nou

Hot on the heels of a 3-0 defeat of Villarreal, FC Barcelona have another home league fixture on Sunday at 9pm CEST. Here’s the lowdown on the team they call The Lions.

Where are they from?

The city of Bilbao is the tenth largest in Spain with a population of almost 350,000, although the ‘Greater Bilbao’ metropolitan area is home to getting on for a million people. It is the main city of the Basque Country, which has its own language and culture. Bilbao is a highly industrialised city and its most famous landmark is the Guggenheim Museum.

Club history

Due to being a port connected to Britain, Bilbao was one of the first cities in Spain to develop a football culture, and the Athletic Club was founded one year before FC Barcelona in 1898.

In the early years of the 20th century, the rivalry between Athletic and Barça was probably the most intense in the country. But as the years went by, the traditional friendship between Basques and Catalans was reflected more and more on the football field as they were united against a ‘common enemy’ in the rising Real Madrid.

Athletic remain, along with Barça and Real Madrid, one of just three clubs never to have been relegated out of the first division. And they are second in the all-time list for Spanish Cup victories (23) and fourth for La Liga titles (8), although they have not won either since their double winning campaign in 1983/84.

Arguably this is because the club continues to observe the tradition (it has never been an official policy) of only fielding players raised in the Basque football system. It is testimony to the quality of football in the region that Athletic have remained so competitive in the face of the ‘globalisation’ of football.

 

Did you know?

Although the club is widely known as ‘Athletic Bilbao’, its own supporters always insist on being called ‘Athletic Club’. This partly dates back to the club’s earliest years, when its greatest rivals were the now defunct Bilbao FC, which it absorbed in 1903.

Atlético Madrid was founded by Basque players living in the Spanish capital, which is why the teams wear the same red and white stripes. But although the Madrid-based team has since adopted a Spanish translation, the team from Bilbao still proudly maintains the English ‘Athletic’ name.

Athletic employs a similar membership-based democratic structure to that of FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, something very rare in modern-day football. Osasuna is another such club.

Athletic are known as The Lions, which comes from the fact that the local church from which the stadium takes its name (San Mamés) honours a saint who was thrown to the lions by the Romans.

The club’s red-and-white stripes date back to 1909, when one of the players brought back a set of Southampton shirts from England.

Head-to-head

In the last three years, Athletic have knocked Barça out of the Copa del Rey twice and also the Spanish Super Cup once. But despite those slips in cup competitions, the Catalans have remained solid in the league, losing just one of their last 17 meetings with the Basques.

In this fixture last season, Barça took a first half lead through Aubameyang, and although they eventually won by a comfortable 4-0, the other three goals didn't come until very late on, converted by Dembélé, Luuk de Jong and Memphis.

Last ten meetings
27/02/22 (LIGA) Barça 4-0 Athletic
20/01/22 (COPA DEL REY) Athletic 3-2 Barça
21/08/21 (LIGA): Athletic 1-1 Barça
17/04/21 (COPA DEL REY): Athletic 0-4 Barça
31/01/21 (LIGA): Barça 2-1 Athletic
17/01/21 (SPANISH SUPER CUP): Barça 2-3 Athletic
06/01/21 (LIGA): Athletic 2-3 Barça
23/06/20 (LIGA): Barça 1-0 Athletic
06/02/20 (COPA DEL REY): Athletic 1-0 Barça
16/08/19 (LIGA): Athletic 1-0 Barça

 

Form guide

Athletic have started the season in very decent form. Surprisingly, their only two defeats so far have been at home, to Espanyol and to Atlético Madrid, the latter just a few days ago.

In just three games played on the road, they scored four times at Cadiz and Elche and most recently drew 1-1 away to Sevilla. It has been enough to leave them sixth in the table and in strong contention to get back into Europe after missing out this year.

The squad

Most capped internationals: Unai Simón (Spain, 27), Iñigo Martínez (Spain, 19), Nico Williams (Spain, 2), Iker Muniain (Spain, 2), Raúl García (Spain, 2), Iñaki Williams (Ghana, 2), Ander Herrera (Spain, 2)

Top scorers 2022/23: Iñaki Williams (4), Nico Williams (3),  Alex Berenguer (3), Oihan Sancet (3)

The boss

Ernesto Valverde is a familiar face at Spotify Camp Nou. He played for Barça from 1988–1991 and then returned as manager from 2017–2020, guiding the club to two Liga titles and one Copa del Rey. This will be his first return to Barça since then, in what is now his third stint as boss of Athletic, for whom he made 170 appearances in his playing days.

Valverde has also managed Espanyol, Valencia and Villarreal in Spain, and also Olympiacos, with whom he won three Greek league championships.

Ernesto Valverde

 

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Força Barça

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