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Preview: Elche vs. Athletic Bilbao - prediction, team news, lineups

:Headline: Preview: Elche vs. Athletic Bilbao - prediction, team news, lineups:
Sports Mole previews Monday's La Liga clash between Elche and Athletic Bilbao, including predictions, team news and possible lineups.
Sports Mole

Elche and Athletic Bilbao will open their respective 2021-22 La Liga campaigns with a clash at Estadio Manuel Martínez Valero on Monday evening.

Athletic collected 46 points from their 38 league matches last season to claim 10th in Spain's top flight, while Elche only just avoided the drop by finishing 17th, two points above the relegation zone.

Match preview

Elche, as mentioned, finished 17th on their return to the top flight last term, picking up 36 points from their 38 matches, which just about proved enough to escape relegation back to the second tier.

Only the bottom three won fewer matches than Elche (eight) last term, and it would not be a surprise if they were once again battling for their lives at the bottom heading towards the end of the new season.

Recruitment is vital for every club in world football, particularly those without much money to spend, and Elche have made some smart signings this summer, including securing Ivan Marcone, Johan Mojica and Lucas Boye on permanent deals.

Pedro Bigas and Enzo Roco have also arrived, while Kiko Casilla has joined on loan from Leeds United, meaning that there should be greater depth to their squad next term, but a number of players, including Dani Calvo and Miguel Cifuentes, have left on free transfers.

Fran Escriba's side will be desperate to make a positive start to their season, but their next two after this one are incredibly difficult, facing a trip to Wanda Metropolitano to take on the champions Atletico Madrid before welcoming a talented Sevilla team at the end of the month.

Athletic, meanwhile, won 11, drew 13 and lost 14 of their 38 league matches last season to finish in 10th position, some 15 points behind the top six; the spot in the table was an improvement on 2019-20, when they finished 11th, but five fewer points were gained over the course of the season.

The Basque outfit finished fourth, seventh, fifth and seventh in Spain's top flight between 2014 and 2017, but it is difficult to imagine them pushing for a potential European spot in the coming campaign.

Athletic's club policy of signing Basque-only players makes it incredibly tough for them to improve their team on a yearly basis, and it has been a quiet transfer window, with Alex Petxa the only arrival from Real Sociedad B.

It is essentially the same group of players that ended last season, so there will not be too many surprises from Ernesto Valverde's side this term, and they will have to seriously overachieve to push towards the top six.

The Lions have shown positive signs over the course of pre-season, though, beating Borussia Dortmund and Southampton in recent friendlies, in addition to drawing 1-1 with Liverpool last time out.

Elche pre-season form:
  • W
  • D
  • W
  • D
  • L

Athletic Bilbao pre-season form:
  • W
  • L
  • W
  • L
  • W
  • D

Team News

Elche will be without the services of Jony Alamo on Monday due to a hamstring problem, while Luismi recently tested positive for coronavirus and will therefore be unavailable for selection.

Pablo Piatti is also battling a calf issue, but Escriba's squad is otherwise in good shape, and it might be a 4-4-2 formation for the home side, with Boye being joined by Guido Carrillo in the final third of the field.

Raul Guti is likely to be partnered by Marcone in the middle of the park, with Josan Fernandez and Fidel expected to make up the midfield, while Bigas could make his debut in the back four.

As for Athletic, Yuri Berchiche and Peru Nolaskoain are out for the foreseeable future, while Ander Capa, Inigo Cordoba and Kenan Kodro are all expected to miss the contest.

Head coach Marcelino still has a strong squad to choose from, though, and an attacking side could include Iker Muniain, Inaki Williams and Alex Berenguer.

Oihan Sancet is also pushing to be involved in the final third of the field, while Marcelino has decisions to make in the middle of the park, but Unai Vencedor could ultimately get the nod alongside Dani Garcia.

Elche possible starting lineup:
Badia; Palacios, Verdu, Bigas, Josema; Josan, Guti, Marcone, Fidel; Carrillo, Boye

Athletic Bilbao possible starting lineup:
Agirrezabala; De Marcos, Alvarez, Martinez, Balenziaga; Berenguer, D Garcia, Vencedor, Muniain; Williams, Sancet

We say: Elche 0-1 Athletic Bilbao

This is an incredibly difficult match to predict, as it is tough to know exactly what to expect this early in the season. The recent meetings between these two teams suggest that it will be a close affair, and we can see a narrow 1-0 victory for Athletic, with Williams potentially on the scoresheet.

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1Real Madrid32108447
5Atletico MadridAtletico32105327
7Real Sociedad32014406
9Athletic Bilbao31202115
10Rayo Vallecano31024403
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18Celta Vigo301213-21
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