After the jubilant opening of the Wanda Metropolitano, complete with fireworks display and a hard-earned three points, Atleti are on the road again. Next up, a trip to the Basque Country to meet Athletic Club at the San Mames Stadium.
Athletic Club are one of the founder members of La Liga, and one of only three teams never to have been relegated from the top tier. That stat is impressive enough, without taking into account the Bilbao side’s transfer policy; the team only fields players raised in the Basque Country. With a talent pool restricted to this area of Spain (and France), Athletic Club’s success and regular presence in the upper echelons of La Liga is a continuing surprise.
Another team to have moved from a cherished home in recent years, switching to the new San Mames after a century at the old one. Atleti will be hoping to adapt to new surroundings in the same way Los Leones did; since the move Bilbao has seen Champions League football and a victory in the Spanish Supercopa.
Much like our own Rojiblancos, Athletic Club have made a mixed start to this campaign. Victories over Girona and Eibar have been tempered somewhat by a draw with Getafe and a loss against Las Palmas. Athletic head into the game one point and one place below Los Colcheneros.
One to watch
If Athletic Club are an unlikely story, then 36 year-old Aritz Aduriz is a fine protagonist. Already a journeyman with Valladolid, Valencia and Mallorca on his CV, he returned to Athletic Club in 2012. No one predicted quite the impact Aduriz would make at San Mames. He’s been top scorer for Los Leones for the last five seasons, with some impressive stats in both domestic and European competitions.
The 2015/16 season saw him notch 36 goals and become the Europa League’s top goalscorer, and earn a call up to the Spanish national side for Euro 2016.
This is an easy one: Athletic Club and Atletico literally share history. It’s thanks to Basque students in Madrid that Atleti were founded, initially as a branch of Athletic Bilbao. For the first 18 years of Atleti’s existence they were tied to their Basque parent club, before Athletic Madrid (as they were) became independent in 1921.
The clubs are the two most successful in Spain after Barca and Real, contesting numerous Copa del Rey finals across the decades. Their most recent high-profile meeting occurred in 2012, as both Rojiblancos, on the cusp of special periods in their histories, met in the Europa League final.
The two styles that would become so prominent across European football in the coming years were on show that evening. Simeone and Bielsa, both in their first season at the clubs, were still establishing their philosophies, Cholos hard-running, quick countering vs Bielsas hard-pressing passing game.
Cholismo won out that night, as Atleti were 3-0 winners thanks to a Radamel Falcao brace and a late strike from Diego. Atleti lifted their second Europa League trophy in three years, and despite the defeat Bielsa’s side had made their mark on the continent.
Fittingly, given the past connection, Athletic were the final team to meet Atleti at the Vicente Calderon. On an emotionally-charged afternoon in May, Atleti were 3-1 winners, as the stadium by the Manzanares was given a fine send off.