Athletic Bilbao and Mallorca get their 2022-23 La Liga campaign underway with a fixture at San Mames on Monday.
The home side are looking to improve on last season’s eighth-placed finish, while Mallorca are relieved to be spending another year in the top flight after their near miss with relegation.
On the back of an eighth-placed finish in La Liga, Athletic would likely have kept Marcelino Garcia Toral in the dugout had he not made the decision to step down from his role.
However, the response to that disappointment has been the return of Ernesto Valverde, who begins his third stint at a club that has helped make his career.
In his two previous periods at Los Leones, Valverde has taken charge of 306 games, winning 140 of them, and it earned him his opportunity to become the head coach of Barcelona.
The 58-year-old has been absent from the dugout since January 2020, but he begins his 10th job full of motivation to earn European football for 2023-24.
Athletic enjoyed a productive pre-season, their solitary defeat in eight games coming at Newcastle United, and Valverde has the challenge of trying to get the best out of a squad which is currently weaker in comparison to last season’s crop of players.
At one stage during the last campaign, Mallorca looked near certainties to be handed an immediate return back down to the second tier.
That was until seven points came from their final three fixtures, Javier Aguirre spearheading a revival which would see the club stay in the top flight by one point.
With Vedat Muriqi having turned his loan deal into a permanent stay, Mallorca look well equipped to build on that momentum under their well-travelled head coach.
Los Piratas appear to have enjoyed a strong period in the transfer market with goalkeeper Predrag Rajkovic a notable addition between the sticks having signed from Reims.
Athletic Bilbao pre-season form:
Mallorca pre-season form:
We say: Athletic Bilbao 2-1 Mallorca
Both teams will be motivated to make a positive impression on Monday, most notably Athletic because of their high-profile change in leadership. Mallorca may have their moments at San Mames, but we feel that the home side will edge this contest by the odd goal in three.