Ernesto Valverde, who despite his Cáceres origins has always been a fan of the Basque Country, will be part of an extra special match this weekend. Starting his footballing career with Deportivo Alavés, Txingurri (Basque for ant) spent time playing for Espanyol and Barcelona before signing for Athletic Club, a team he would form long lasting ties with. This weekend he will see his side take on one of his old clubs, Barcelona, in what will be a fond trip down memory lane.
It will be an emotional encounter for him as he revisits his first ever Liga BBVA fixture as a coach, when in 2003 his Athletic Club took on and lost 1-0 to a Frank Rijkaard managed blaugrana side. That was the beginning of a new era, and helped to strengthen the bond between the Lions and Valverde, who had previously spent six years of his playing career defending the Red and White jersey (1990-1996).
Having spent two years at the helm of Athletic in the Liga BBVA, during which time he got the team into the UEFA Cup, Valverde made his return to the Basque side in 2013. Now he will once again take on Barcelona, a rival the Bilbao side seems to have the run of at home, having won 41 of the 82 matches disputed between the two sides in San Mamés.
Sunday will be a big fixture for Valverde, the only man to have managed the Basque outfit in both its old and new stadium. His goal will be to maintain his side’s unbeaten record at home. With the momentum that has seen his side climb to fifth place in the Liga BBVA, he will be looking to avoid the most frequent result between both teams (1-1) and grab all three points in order to become one of only a few teams that can claim to have greater than a 50% win rate against the Barca at home.