These two sides meet this Sunday (11.15pm Malaysia Time) in an encounter filled with both tradition and modern-day significance. Two of LaLiga’s marquee clubs with over 200 years of history between them, these two sides are both looking to push up the table in a LaLiga season which has thrown up quite a few surprises so far.
Athletic Club host Valencia at San Mames on Sunday in one of LaLiga Santander’s landmark fixtures, with the extra spice this time of Los Leones’ new coach Marcelino facing his former team.
Marcelino left the Valencia job in September 2019, just months after guiding Los Che to the 2019 Copa del Rey trophy, and still has many friends among the team who will visit San Mames for a game which comes as both teams are starting to look up the table after tricky first halves of the LaLiga Santander season.
The former Racing Santander, Recreativo de Huelva and Villarreal coach has had an instant impact at Athletic, guiding the Basque side past both Real Madrid and Barcelona to win January’s Spanish Super Cup. Valencia, meanwhile, have stabilised their form recently, with current coach Javi Gracia blending together a hard-working side which have just one loss in their last five LaLiga games.
Athletic come into the game in 11th place in the LaLiga Santander standings following their tight 2-1 defeat at Barcelona’s Camp Nou on Sunday. Their most recent game at San Mames showed more fearsome form, with Getafe taking the lead after just 20 seconds but five different Athletic players scoring for a final 5-1 scoreline.
Veteran midfielder Raul Garcia scored twice in that game against Getafe, adding to the two goals scored recently against Real Madrid in the Super Cup. Captain and playmaker Iker Muniain and centre-forward Iñaki Williams have also been in superb form since Marcelino’s arrival.
Valencia’s rollercoaster season has included a 4-1 victory over Real Madrid and a very creditable 2-2 draw at Barcelona, although Gracia’s team have struggled for consistency. Their last away trip saw them outclassed 3-1 at LaLiga leaders Atletico de Madrid, before Saturday’s gritty 1-0 victory at home to near neighbours Elche saw them up to 14th in the current table.
Homegrown midfielder Carlos Soler is Los Che’s topscorer in LaLiga with six – including five penalties, even after missing the first spot-kick of his career against Elche. Uruguayan striker Maxi Gomez has five goals so far in LaLiga, while captain and left-back Jose Gaya is a huge influence with four assists from left-back.
Meetings between these teams in recent years have brought plenty of drama – their first clash of 2020-21 was a thriller. Soler put Los Che ahead from spot, Asier Villalibre equalised before Raul Garcia’s penalty appeared to have set Los Leones on the way to victory, only for substitute Manu Garcia to make it 2-2 near the end. Valencia are also unbeaten on their last three visits to San Mames, with Denis Cheryshev netting the only goal on their most recent visit in September 2019.
Besides Marcelino’s connection, there have also been other links between the clubs over the years. Aritz Aduriz is well loved by fans of both teams for his goals in each of their colours, while others to have worn both jerseys including Andoni Zubizarreta, Asier del Horno and Edmundo Suarez Trabanco, who started at his career at Athletic but then scored 186 goals for Valencia between 1939 and 1950 and is till Los Che’s all time leading scorer in LaLiga.
Both teams will be out to make more history in Sunday’s meeting at San Mames, where old friendships and rivalries will add to the spectacle once again.