Neither los Leones nor los Manos have had the start to the season they wanted, but it’s the guests who are in the most desperate need of points...
Over the past few seasons, Athletic Bilbao have typically been a side battling for a mid-table position in La Primera Division, but last season’s push for eighth has raised expectations around the Basque club somewhat. Presently languishing 11th, los Leones will aim to better their position by defeating struggling Zaragoza this weekend.
Already los Leones have had to negotiate some difficult hurdles this season, and in truth they’ve not necessarily coped with these. Defeats against Atletico Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia have undermined their start to the fresh campaign, though none of these results taken on their own would be especially disappointing.
“There have been games in which we could have been better, but I think the team is good,” Toquero has argued to the press this week. “We are working very hard, but it's very difficult to compete with the greats of the league, because we know that they have some excellent players and it's difficult to compete against them.”
Against ‘lesser opponents’ Athletic have been almost flawless this season, stumbling only slightly against Sporting de Gijon away from home by drawing 2-2, and they will want to maintain their impressive record against foes they are better than on paper by defeating los Manos at San Mames.
Much of last season was a battle against relegation for Zaragoza, and Jose Aurelio Gay’s side have started this campaign in similar form, struggling to get away from the clutches of the bottom three in the early weeks of the season. Whereas some of their rivals in the lower echelons of the table have faced some of Spain’s top clubs, los Manos have had a moderate start to the season and can attach no blame to the fixture computer for their predicament.
Given this weak beginning to proceedings, it’s unsurprising that already there is media talk that Gay will be dismissed should the Aragon side suffer another set-back at the weekend. Favourite in the local press is Nestor Gorosito, the previously unknown Argentine who guided Xerez to within a whisker of a miracle rise from the dead last term.
Gay’s death warrant looks all but served unless he can magic up a sequence of positive results over the course of the next month. Bilbao is a difficult place to go at the best of times, but with fixtures against Barcelona, Valencia, Mallorca and Sevilla to follow-up in the immediate aftermath, it’s conceivable that the Romareda club could go through until Christmas picking up only a scattering of points.
Last time out, Zaragoza salvaged a 2-2 draw at home against Sporting de Gijon, coming back from the dead after going 2-0 down and having been reduced to 10 men. That comeback may have temporarily saved Gay’s job, but the Lazarus-like recovery will have to continue if he’s to still be in charge when the side host Barca in around a week.
David Lopez picked up an injury in a midweek encounter against lower division side Basconia and is unlikely to play a great role in the weekend’s match. Javi Martinez, Amorebieta and Ustaritz also face late checks after training apart from the squad for much of the week.
Jon Aurtenetxe is away on Under-19 international duty so will lose his status as an ever-present in los Leones’ XI.
Ander Herrera is carrying a muscular problem in his right thigh and only started light training with the side against on Wednesday so is by no means considered a certainty to feature at San Mames.
Victor Laguardia and Ikechukwu Uche are long-term injury problems, while goalkeeper Leo Franco is also poised to miss out.
Jiri Jarosik is suspended.