Athletic Club stands out in Spanish football not merely due to their status as one of only three clubs, alongside Real Madrid and Barcelona, to have never been relegated from La Liga. Nor is their distinction solely derived from their superior record compared to Real Madrid in Spain’s premier cup competition, the Copa del Rey. What truly sets Athletic Club apart are the unique values they embody, their steadfast policy of recruiting only Basque players, and an unwavering commitment to this tradition.

If one were to personify the very essence of Athletic Club’s singularity, the embodiment would be found in Ernesto Valverde, the club’s head coach. Under his guidance, the principles and identity that make Athletic Club exceptional are given full expression. The stage for the next episode of such expression is the Santiago Bernabeu and opponent is of course, Real Madrid.

Except for a brief period in 2022-23, Athletic Club underperformed their non-penalty expected goals differential until recently. Ernesto Valverde’s side have show immense resilience to find themselves in a Champions League position before travelling to the Madrid and they have started to over-perform their npxG differential in this stretch.

The significance of the Williams brothers to Athletic Club’s offensive scheme is highlighted in the expected-threat (xT) map concerning their distribution and ball progression. Their penetrative play down the flanks, particularly on the right, injects dynamism into Athletic’s attacking maneuvers. Nico Williams in particular has been as absolute calamity for opponent defenders.

Conversely, when assessing vulnerabilities, it is apparent that opponents tend to exploit Athletic’s flanks to generate their own xT. A critical area of concern for Athletic is safeguarding the central zones, especially outside the left half-space, which could prove decisive in mitigating threats and maintaining defensive solidity.

Two of Athletic Club’s top three pass clusters are understandably on the right. This binds all phases of their attack. Their pass receptions are the most dense around the flanks and half-spaces. Movement around these zones make their attack unpredictable and dangerous.

Athletic Club’s statistics this season demonstrate a well-rounded and effective approach to the game. Ranking fifth in non-penalty expected goals highlights their proficiency in creating genuine goal-scoring opportunities from open play. More impressively, they are third in converting these chances into actual non-penalty goals, a testament to their striking accuracy and efficiency in front of the goal. Their fifth place in non-penalty xG per shot indicates a strategic approach to shooting, favouring quality over quantity.

Additionally, their offensive dynamism is evident from their frequent touches in the attacking penalty area, also ranking fifth in the league. On the defensive end, their ability to restrict opponents is notable, with a rank of 18th in terms of allowing touches in their own penalty box, suggesting a solid defensive structure that effectively keeps rivals at bay.

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