EUROPA LEAGUE | AZ ALKMAAR - ATHLETIC
Fresh air for Athletic in Alkmaar
Williams and Iturraspe are set to make a return for the Basque side against a daring AZ team. Rotating the squad has back-fired in Zilina and Villarreal.
Athletic return to Europa League action this evening but with their sights firmly set on their La Liga campaign. Valencia visit San Mamés over the weekend and Valverde’s men are anxious to secure maximum points ahead of the international break. The objective for Athletic at the AFAS Stadion in Alkmaar is crystal clear: take all points and then be able to face the last four matches with relative calm.
Valverde has been forced to travel without San José, Etxeita and Susaeta with Lekue, Aketxe along with Iñaki Williams set to take their places. Tonight’s game in Holland could also see the welcome return of Iturraspe who picked up an injury in the preliminary round in Azerbaijan against Inter Bakú.
Tonight’s opponents, AZ Alkmaar are a dynamic side who currently lie eleventh in the Eredivise League. AZ coach, Johan Van den Brom will look to catch out Athletic on the counter-attack with a team who offer more in an attacking capacity. Hendriksen is the star player for the Dutch side who controls the midfield area but also creates plenty of scoring chances for his team.
AZ however have just managed to score twice in five games in the competition. A distant reflection of the famous 1981 side who were Uefa Cup runners-up with the legendary Kees Kist, in their side. Under Louis Van Gaal, they won the Dutch league in 2008-09 but all the players from that unique success (Romero, Pellé, Dembélé and El Hamdaoui have moved on)..
A win at the AFAS Stadion (which is expected to be full this evening) would see a leap forward for the side in the competition and a win would see Valverde’s side top the group assuming that Partizan Belgrade don’t secure a victory in Augsburg. Recent rotation exercises have not paid off well for Valverde as the game in Zilina and Villarreal testify.