Athletic dropped two points yesterday at the Estadio de la Cerámica. The lions deserved more than a draw against a Villarreal team that prioritized the Champions League over the League without any hesitation. Emery, even so, presented a highly competitive block, although plagued by substitutes. Of the starting eleven that he formed days before against Bayern in the same scenario, no player was in the game.
Marcelino’s team was penalized as usual. The rojiblancos returned to forgive more than necessary against the local side. For the yellows, on the other hand, fewer approaches were enough to level the goal scored by Raúl García, after a great play by Muniain and with referee suspense, before the break. Pedraza signed the tables in the second half.
The players and even the coach of the Bilbao team complain, with every reason in the world, about a penalty not signaled by Del Cerro Grande due to a handball, elbow in this case, by Serge Aurier. The referee, at the request of the VAR, went to review the play in question, a play that at first had gone unnoticed and that the replays were responsible for clarifying, but he understood that the arm-ball contact had been involuntary.
This more than debatable arbitration decision was not an obstacle, despite everything, for Athletic to go into the break with an advantage on the scoreboard. The Bilbao goal, curiously, was also granted at the request of the VAR because Del Cerro had previously annulled it due to a non-existent offside. On this occasion, the referee didn’t even need to go check the play on the monitor.
Unfortunately, when the lions pressed the hardest, the goal of the local tie came. Emery put in all his possible artillery from there, with the five regulation changes, but the rojiblancos knew how to rearm and even had their options to have won the match.
Unai Simón, it is true, also had to intervene, although considerably less than Asenjo. Between the good work of the Villarreal goalkeeper and the poor performance of Athletic’s forwards, especially Iñaki Williams, two points vanished that would have allowed the lions to climb to seventh place.
Therein lies one of the great differences between a team that has options to get into the Champions League semifinals and another that seems to take it for granted to enter the Conference League. Emery, of course, can have two different highly competitive elevens. Marcelino, on the other hand, has to change positions on the fly to certain players. Petxa, for example, came in for the injured Vesga to act as a central midfielder and ended up as a winger with the recovered Dani García and Zarraga in the double pivot.
Two start surprises
The Asturian coach surprised from the start by leaving Yuri and Sancet on the bench. Balenziaga and Raúl García, two illustrious veterans, took their places and fulfilled their mission. Athletic came to have everything in their favor to have been sentenced at the Estadio de la Cerámica, but they forgave more than necessary. The lions, it is true, also had their troubles when Emery pulled Gerard Moreno, Danjuma and company. The point, according to what was seen at grass level, knows little, although it has its merits. Villarreal is not just anyone.