Gaizka Garitano is out at Athletic Club and Marcelino is in. Marcelino is a bit of a change from Garitano, but the two men have some things in common. Both were let go at puzzling moments – Garitano after a win and Marcelino’s last stop at Valencia was cut short after repeated disagreements with the club’s brass. Marcelino’s exodus preceded many of the players who thrived for him, including captain Dani Parejo and Ferran Torres. He’s hoping to have a similar effect on the Basque side.
Garitano, meanwhile, was let go with the club in ninth place and beginning to get results. Yet, even without fans in the stands, supporters of the only non-Barcelona or Real Madrid club to never have been relegated still let their voices be heard that they disproved of the dull and dry performances taking place. Club president Aitor Elizegi backed Garitano for quite some time, but his brand of football had overstayed its welcome.
Getting rid of the Basque Garitano in place of the Asturian-born Marcelino continues the major questions that Athletic Club are currently asking. In the modern financial state of football, the debate of whether or not the club should finally move away from its Basque-only transfer policy is reaching new heights and may be the closest its ever been to being altered. I don’t think that happens just yet – the club is reportedly in better financial shape than many other Spanish clubs due to the high selling prices it has managed in recent seasons. Meanwhile, a net of 41.81 million euros of the last three seasons has kept costs low.
Like Real Sociedad, Athletic Club more than any other wants its players to want to play for the club in more than just a business sense. The pride in putting on that jersey needs to be as cathartic as playing for a national team, as it does try to identify itself as one by proxy.
The San Mamés can be a temple of Basque excellence with fans, but without them the team has failed to inspire. When facing off against the Basques, Barcelona know all-to-well many of the faces that will greet them. Iñaki Williams and his three goals are sure to feature while Iker Muniain is healthier this season than previous ones and will be pulling the strings. Raúl García, maybe the most annoying Athletic Club player since Andoni Goikoetxea (The Butcher of Bilbao), will play some role, even if it just kicking Frenkie de Jong and Pedri at the ankles.
25-year-old winger Álex Berenguer is the one contributing new arrival this season, and he’s scored two goals. Left-back Yuri Berchiche is the danger man though with his team-leading four assists, so don’t expect a big attacking day from Sergiño Dest again. The Basque conveyor belt has continued as well, with promoted midfielders Oihan Sancet and Unai Vencedor adding depth and a little freshness to the side.
Since it’s Marcelino’s first match in charge and he had less than three days to prepare his team, don’t expect radical attacking play from Athletic Club just yet. But do expect a methodical, hard-working side that will fight at home for a result. It wouldn’t be surprising to find the industrious (isn’t it a shame that that’s his defining quality this year) Antoine Griezmann back in the squad. To protect Barcelona’s right side, Ronald Koeman may opt to use Griezmann on the right while defending and push he and Lionel Messi into the middle with the ball.
With a win, Barcelona could push up the table as far as third – an incredible sight when taking into account all the points that the Blaugrana have already dropped this season. Yet, another win could continue to put pressure on the two giants from Madrid and ask whether or not “Hay Liga” exists outside of the Spanish capital.
Barcelona (4-2-3-1): ter Stegen; Alba, Lenglet, Araújo, Dest; de Jong, Pjanic; Dembélé, Pedri, Messi; Griezmann
Athletic Club (4-2-3-1): Simón; Berchiche, Martínez, Núñez, Capa; Venecedor, Vesga; Berenguer, Muniain, Williams; García
Dan Hilton is an American journalist, broadcaster, and current Editor-in-Chief of BarcaBlog. Extensive work as a play-by-play broadcaster, producer behind the scenes, and quite average player in his younger years has given him a well-rounded and informative perspective on the sport. Alongside BarcaBlog founder Francesc, Dan started The Barcelona Podcast in 2017