Elche and Athletic Bilbao will open their respective 2021-22 La Liga campaigns with a clash at Estadio Manuel Martínez Valero on Monday evening.
Athletic collected 46 points from their 38 league matches last season to claim 10th in Spain’s top flight, while Elche only just avoided the drop by finishing 17th, two points above the relegation zone.
Elche, as mentioned, finished 17th on their return to the top flight last term, picking up 36 points from their 38 matches, which just about proved enough to escape relegation back to the second tier.
Only the bottom three won fewer matches than Elche (eight) last term, and it would not be a surprise if they were once again battling for their lives at the bottom heading towards the end of the new season.
Recruitment is vital for every club in world football, particularly those without much money to spend, and Elche have made some smart signings this summer, including securing Ivan Marcone, Johan Mojica and Lucas Boye on permanent deals.
Pedro Bigas and Enzo Roco have also arrived, while Kiko Casilla has joined on loan from Leeds United, meaning that there should be greater depth to their squad next term, but a number of players, including Dani Calvo and Miguel Cifuentes, have left on free transfers.
Fran Escriba’s side will be desperate to make a positive start to their season, but their next two after this one are incredibly difficult, facing a trip to Wanda Metropolitano to take on the champions Atletico Madrid before welcoming a talented Sevilla team at the end of the month.
Athletic, meanwhile, won 11, drew 13 and lost 14 of their 38 league matches last season to finish in 10th position, some 15 points behind the top six; the spot in the table was an improvement on 2019-20, when they finished 11th, but five fewer points were gained over the course of the season.
The Basque outfit finished fourth, seventh, fifth and seventh in Spain’s top flight between 2014 and 2017, but it is difficult to imagine them pushing for a potential European spot in the coming campaign.
Athletic’s club policy of signing Basque-only players makes it incredibly tough for them to improve their team on a yearly basis, and it has been a quiet transfer window, with Alex Petxa the only arrival from Real Sociedad B.
It is essentially the same group of players that ended last season, so there will not be too many surprises from Ernesto Valverde’s side this term, and they will have to seriously overachieve to push towards the top six.
The Lions have shown positive signs over the course of pre-season, though, beating Borussia Dortmund and Southampton in recent friendlies, in addition to drawing 1-1 with Liverpool last time out.
Elche pre-season form:
Athletic Bilbao pre-season form: