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|First Half Result||Odds|
The Basque side have been quick starters so far this season and Atletico Madrid might have to come from behind to pick up a positive result here.
Back Athletic Bilbao to win the first half.
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Athletic Bilbao missed out on qualification for the continental competition last season. Their eighth-place finish was not enough to secure a spot in the Europa League or the Europa Conference League, with a return of just one win in their last four matches ultimately proving costly.
Yet perhaps missing out on Europe has helped Athletic this term. The group stage in each of the three European tournaments has been squeezed into an eight-week period to make space for the 2022 World Cup. Many of Athletic’s rivals have therefore been contesting two fixtures per week as standard. The Basques, conversely, have been free to focus on La Liga assignments, with not even as much as a Copa del Rey tie to distract them.
Ernesto Valverde’s side have turned that situation to their advantage. The former Barcelona boss is back for a third spell in charge at San Mames, having qualified Athletic for Europe in each of his four seasons at the helm between 2013 and 2017.
The club’s Basque-only recruitment policy means Valverde was not able to sign a glut of players over the summer; the only arrivals were Gorka Guruzeta and Ander Herrera on loan from Ligue 1 giants Paris Saint-Germain. But Valverde has done some fine coaching work with the players that were already on Athletic’s books.
His team is hard to beat, with only one defeat to their name so far. Crucially, Athletic are more of a force away from home after winning just four of their 19 fixtures away from San Mames under Marcelino last season.
Atletico Madrid are almost in a band of one in La Liga these days. Invariably the third-favorites to win the title at the start of each season, Diego Simeone’s side usually find themselves a distance behind Real Madrid and Barcelona in the judgment of the best online sportsbooks.
Yet there is also a gap between Atletico, the title dark horses, and the group of rank outsiders that features the likes of Sevilla, Real Betis, and Real Sociedad.
More than anything, this reflects the distribution of revenue in Spain’s top flight. According to the 2022 edition of the Deloitte Money League, Real Madrid earned €640.7m in 2020/21 (the period covered by the report), behind only Premier League champions Manchester City in Europe. Barcelona ranked fourth on the continent with €582.1m. There was then a substantial drop to Atletico on €332.8m, and then another to Sevilla on €199.5m.
Simeone’s side have upset the apple cart on occasion, but they have not been able to obliterate it. Title triumphs in 2014 and 2021 relied in part on Madrid and Barcelona operating below full capacity, and the early signs this season suggest the big two are not about to slip up. With 22 points apiece from a possible 24, the Clasico rivals have enjoyed excellent starts to the campaign.
Yet Atletico are not quite out of the race just yet. At least one of Madrid or Barcelona will drop points when they go head-to-head this weekend. In a best-case scenario, Atletico could end the gameweek just four points adrift of the top spot.
The Colchoneros have particularly impressed away from home this term, taking 10 points from 12 on their travels. That bodes well for Saturday’s trip to the San Mames, where a fierce atmosphere is guaranteed.
One thing that has been notable about Athletic so far this season is their ability to start games quickly. They have led at half-time in a majority of their La Liga matches to date and even scored four times before the interval in a 4-1 thrashing of Elche last month.
Valverde has demanded fast starts and his players have responded with 11 goals in the first halves – which is more than 12 teams in the division have managed overall.
In the bigger games, in particular, Atletico can take a bit longer to get going. Simeone’s priority in this sort of match is to keep things tight at the back, before gradually starting to push forward as time goes on. That is especially the case away from home, and it is a strategy we will probably see in Bilbao on Saturday.
Atletico may well avoid defeat at San Mames, and the quality within their side means an away win is a definite possibility. In terms of betting, though, we recommend focusing on the first half and backing Athletic to make another fast start. Go for the home team to win the opening 45 minutes in this one.
|Teams||Athletic Bilbao vs Atletico Madrid|
|Location||San Mames, Bilbao, Spain|
|Time||Saturday, 15 October 2022, 15.00 PM EST|
|How to watch||ESPN+|
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Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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