Athletic Bilbao can move third in La Liga by beating Almeria at home on Friday evening.
The visitors, who were promoted last season, head into the fixture off the back of three successive defeats.
Despite recording their best points tally for five years when finishing eighth in La Liga last season, Marcelino stepped down from his role as manager in the summer, with Ernesto Valverde taking on his third spell at the club.
The 58-year-old had been out of work since being sacked by Barcelona in January 2020, but Valverde enjoyed an immensely successful time with Athletic, particularly in his second spell when guiding them to top-seven finishes in each of his four years between 2013 and 2017, including when qualifying for the Champions League for the first time in 15 years in his first season.
Having amassed 13 points from six games so far this season, Athletic look set for another exciting period under Valverde’s stewardship. With three clean sheets and 12 goals to their name already, they already look like a more balanced side than in recent seasons, despite spending no money on transfer fees during the summer window.
Nico Williams, brother of Inaki Williams, has particularly flourished under his new manager, scoring two goals and earning his first call-up to the senior Spanish national team during the international break as a result.
Athletic will be expected to beat newly-promoted Almeria on Friday, which would take them level on points with Valverde’s former club Barcelona in second spot, and only two points behind reigning champions Real Madrid at the top.
With Sevilla struggling so far at this early stage of the campaign, the one-time Spain international may have his eyes on repeating history by claiming another fourth-placed finish in his first season in charge of Athletic, especially if his players can continue to hit the ground running under his tutelage.
Almeria, on the other hand, would almost certainly settle for finishing in 17th position this season, having finally ended their seven-year absence away from Spain’s top flight.
Having missed out on promotion from the playoffs following two fourth-placed finishes in the Segunda Division in the previous two seasons, former Real Betis manager Rubi proved to be Almeria’s lucky charm by guiding them to the title in his first season in charge, albeit in dramatic circumstances after themselves and Real Valladolid edged out Eibar by only one point.
Rojiblancos took four points from their opening three matches this season, which included an impressive 2-1 win against Sevilla as well as a marginal 2-1 defeat to Real Madrid, but have since lost three consecutive games by the same scoreline of 1-0 against Valladolid, Osasuna and Mallorca.
While they are keeping things relatively tight at the back, the lack of goal threat will be hugely concerning Rubi, especially ahead of a tricky away trip to Bilbao against an Athletic side who have generally been defensively resolute in recent years, especially with Valverde now at the helm again.
A fourth successive defeat could potentially see Almeria drop into the bottom three by the end of the weekend, making a long, hard season appear increasingly likely to be ahead of them.
Athletic Bilbao La Liga form:
Almeria La Liga form:
We say: Athletic Bilbao 2-0 Almeria
We expect a comfortable victory for Athletic on Friday, with their form and confidence very high after quickly adapting to Valverde’s management once again.
The visitors have failed to score in each of their last three matches and that run is likely to continue against a solid outfit away from home.