Despite guiding Athletic Bilbao to an eighth-placed La Liga (LL) finish last season – their joint highest for five campaigns – whilst also lifting the Spanish Super Cup only last year, former manager Marcelino felt “the time had come to say goodbye” this summer, with Ernesto Valverde returning for his third stint in charge of the Basque club.
He has issues to fix, with Athletic winning just four of their previous ten league games (D3, L3), although they often fare better at San Mamés, where their total of ten home league wins last season was only bettered by the sides that finished inside the top four. Valverde will also be hoping to lean on a solid defence, as the 36 goals they conceded last campaign was only inferior to that of Real Madrid (31) and Sevilla (30), so with a solid base to build on, Valverde may even target European qualification this season starting with a victory here.
Mallorca maintained their top-flight status by the thinnest of margins last season, with a 2-0 victory over Osasuna on the final-day seeing the Pirates steer their ship away from the LL dropzone. Few will forget their fighting spirit, as that win not only ended a run of ten consecutive winless away games (D1, L9) but was also just their third away triumph for the entire campaign (D3, L13)!
It was survival specialist Javier Aguirre who took on the role of Mallorca manager with just nine games remaining, before eventually guiding them to safety. Perhaps Athletic should take note of Mallorca under his tutorship, as the 13 league points Mallorca took in his nine-game spell (W4, D1, L4) was as many as they managed in the previous 18 games before he arrived (W3, D4, L11)!
Players to watch: Athletic striker Iñaki Williams was his side’s top LL scorer last season (eight) and struck in the last H2H at San Mamés – six of his efforts also came at home. Meanwhile, Vedat Muriqi has now permanently signed for Mallorca after a successful loan spell last season and arrives with four goal contributions from his last five LL games (G2, A2).
Athletic Bilbao possible starting lineup:
Iruarrizaga; Marcos, Vivian, Martinez, Berchiche; Berenguer, Vencedor, Vesga, Muniain; I.Williams, Garcia
Mallorca possible starting lineup:
Rajkovic; Maffeo, Valjent, Raillo, Gaya, Costa; Rodriguez, Sanchez, Baba, Lee; Muriqi
Prediction: Home / Over 2.5
Key Points In This Match:
- Both teams will be motivated to make a positive impression on Monday, most notably Athletic because of their high-profile change in leadership. Mallorca may have their moments at San Mames, but we feel that the home side will edge this contest by the odd goal in three.