Pressure everywhere as free-falling Alaves square up against fading Bilbao?
Background image: Gartxoak, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/
In one of the most competitive La Liga seasons in recent times, Deportivo Alaves has been the biggest surprise package of the campaign so far. While sides like Getafe, Real Betis and Girona are giving the traditional top four teams a run for their money, the likes of Valencia, Villarreal, and Athletic Club have been struggling at the wrong end of the table. The derby match between Alaves and Athletic Club is a must-win for each side for different reasons.
Alaves ended the last campaign at the wrong end of the table finishing 14th, but Babazorros El Glorioso has been a different beast this term. Several eye-popping results have defined the campaign for Abelardo’s side. Despite starting the season with a demoralising 3-0 defeat by league leaders Barcelona, the team went on a nine-game unbeaten run that placed the club in the Champions League places. Beating European giants Real Madrid, as well as Celta Vigo and Villarreal in three straight matches, showed their table placement was not an accident.
But with just one win secured in the last five games, the side is now slipping down the table. Yes, qualifying for the Champions Leagues was not in the plan at the beginning of the campaign given the club’s resources and the level of competition faced. But early success must have wet the fans' appetite for more than just fighting for survival. And so the newfound pressure is to maintain the early season form and avoid a free fall from the top end of the table.
At a time when Alaves supporters are dreaming of European football, Athletic Club remains deep in the relegation zone, For a side not used to swimming in relegation waters, recent performances have been uncharacteristic. Eduardo Berizzo was recently fired after failing to win in 13 matches. Although Los Leones have lost the same number of games as their opponents, five, their second win of the campaign came in the last match.
It remains to be seen how the Argentine manager’s replacement will fare. Gaizka Garitano was brought in from the club’s reserve team. Barcelona and Real Madrid have proven with Pep Guardiola and Zinedine Zidane that when done right, that can lead to big things. Having garnered experience at Eibar, Real Valladolid, and Deportivo La Coruna, the new gaffer should be able to get the side out of the bush at least. Yet, any success the side achieves moving on will be a bonus.
But hoping for a win against Alaves to start that upward mobility could be a tall order. Babazorros El Glorioso has not lost a single game at home this season. Manager Abelardo will relish the opportunity to pick up another home win against one of the struggling teams in the league. As a result, his men will approach the game confident of victory.
However, for a side that has never been relegated from the Spanish top flight, the change at the dugout could be all that is required to wake up a sleeping giant, so to say. There is definitely enough quality in the side to steer it clear of the relegation zone. Although some important players like Aymeric Laporte and Kepa Arrizabalaga recently left the team having secured big money moves to the Premier League, others like Oscar De Marcos, Benat Etxebarria, Inaki Williams and Iker Muniain are still very much a part of the team. In fact, the latter duo has scored eight goals in the league this term. There is also the experienced Raul Garcia and Markel Susaeta to provide stability in midfield.
With renewed motivation in the team, Athletic will push the home side all the way as failure to get any result here will mount more pressure on the side. It, therefore, promises to be a cracker. After all, it's a Basque derby. There will be no threading of water here. And in the end, whoever carries the day will have deserved the victory.