Bilbao looking to reassert top four challenge

Athletic Bilbao host Almeria on Saturday hoping to end a run of two consecutive defeats and stake their claim to the fourth Champions League spot.

Athletic Bilbao's forward Iker Muniain (C)

Ernesto Valverde's side saw the distance between themselves and local rivals Real Sociedad cut to a single point after last weekend's 2-0 defeat in the Basque derby at Anoeta, and then their ambitions of reaching the quarter finals of the Copa del Rey were dealt a blow as they suffered a 1-0 defeat at Real Betis in the first leg of their last-16 tie.

According to club captain Carlos Gurpegi, Athletic were unlucky to lose both games.

"I think that (against Betis) we did everything possible to try and get a better result," he told a press conference.

"I think we are on the right path and just like at Anoeta, against Betis we tried to take the initiative, and although both were negative results, the team deserved to get a lot more from the games than we did."

Athletic enjoyed had more possession and far more shots on goal than their opponents in both games and, as a result, Gurpegi is not worried about the team's prospects in the new year.

"Without a doubt, the team are much more comfortable playing together now, we are playing as well away from home as we are at San Mames and we need to keep doing that," he said.

"By playing this way, we will have a much better chance in games than if we were playing any other way. Apart from our lack of goals, we are doing a lot of things the right way."

Almeria spent the first three months of the season searching for their first win but head to San Mames after taking seven points from their last three league games, earning a resounding 3-0 win over Granada last week to climb to 14th in the Primera Division table.

Gurpegi is suspended from the game after picking up his fifth yellow card of the season for protesting Ruben Pardo's late goal in the Basque derby, and is expected to be replaced by Mikel San Jose.

Kike Sola, who against Betis made his first appearance since August following a long period on the sidelines through injury, will be in the squad but Aritz Aduriz is expected to start ahead of him.

For Almeria, striker and top scorer Rodri is still suffering from the ankle injury which has kept him out of action for six weeks and is unlikely to return in time for the game, and defender Nelson Marcos is also injured.



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