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Know Thine Enemy: Atlético Madrid-Athletic Club Q&A with Inside Athletic

Athletic authority James Etxegorri helps us preview Saturday evening’s match.

FC Barcelona v Athletic Club - La Liga Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

Athletic are renowned for the stability, but they’re 17th in LaLiga this season after a 16th-place finish last season. What’s gone so wrong at San Mamés?

Figuring out what has gone wrong this season is really difficult. The team is much better than they were last year, but the results just haven’t shown that. Under Kuko Ziganda the team had no shape, no organization, or clear style of play. Under Eduardo Berizzo all those things can be seen, but the results are just as bad.

For the most part Athletic have kept possession and pressed well, which is the first goal, but they haven’t done anything with it. Opponents have been content to sit back in defense and then hit on the counter when Athletic have most of their players far up the pitch.

Why hasn’t Berizzo been able to make his mark on this team — and how much longer will he be in the job?

Unlike Ziganda’s Athletic, Berizzo’s team at least has a clear style that they are trying to play. Athletic have to find a way to score goals if they are going to win games and right now that just isn’t happening. Aritz Aduriz hasn’t been his best and Iñaki Williams continues to struggle as a striker. Iker Muniain could be key in the midfield, but Berizzo has to find a way to free him up to create.

As far as Berizzo’s job is concerned, it certainly looks like he will be given until Christmas. President Josu Urrutia said that he wanted to give the next manager and board the freedom to make their own decisions starting with the January transfer window, which seemed to hint that he won’t be sacking Berizzo himself.

Urrutia announced he would not run for re-election when the next vote takes place on Dec. 27. What led to this decision and who will replace him?

Urrutia has always alluded that he would only serve for two terms. Being a club president can burn someone out quickly, especially at smaller clubs who don’t enjoy regular success. Everyone basically expected him to announce that he wouldn’t run again, but it’s still a sad thing for the club because he has been one of the best presidents in Athletic’s history.

As far as candidates go there is only one person who has already said that he will run and that’s José Antonio Jainaga, the President of Sidenor Steel in the Basque Country. Other than that there are a few potential options within Urrutia’s current board. Accountant Alberto Uribe-Echevarría is probably in the best position to run, but Vice President José Ángel Corres and Secretary Javier Aldazabal could as well.

Aduriz hasn’t scored in over 400 minutes this season. At 37, is he near the end of the line?

Muscle problems forced him to miss some of the preseason and then he was out for a month after playing the first game of the season. Aduriz finally seems healthy but hasn’t been able to score yet. The lack of goals is due to several issues, the first being the fact that the team is just struggling to create chances for the forwards. He’s also had to adapt to Berizzo’s intense pressing style of play, which demands a lot more. It’s easy to say that Aduriz is starting to show his age and is slowing down, but I’ve learned never to doubt him because he’s silenced the critics too many times.

Athletic have not won this fixture in nearly eight years. Any chance they can change that Saturday?

Based on the way Athletic have played this year — and the fact that they will be without Dani García, Yeray and possibly Raúl García — it’s hard to see them winning this game. However, Atlético Madrid have injury problems of their own and just played a very demanding Champions League game. If Athletic play their best and are able to create a few chances they have the potential to get something positive from this game.

Prediction time.

Atlético boast the best defense in the league and Athletic are struggling to score goals. I will have to predict a 1-0 win for Atlético at home.