Bilbao boss Valverde looks to prioritise La Liga matters

Andy West 05:59 23/08/2014
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The job at hand: Ernesto Valverde wants Bilbao to prioritise La Liga this season.

Athletic Bilbao will be attempting to put European distractions to one side as they kick off the new La Liga campaign with tonight’s testing trip to Malaga.

The Basque club finished fourth last season to enter the Champi­ons League for the first time in 15 years, and on Tuesday they put themselves in a strong position to progress to the group stage by earn­ing a 1-1 draw in the first leg of their qualifying tie against Napoli.

With the return leg at the San Mames looming on Wednesday, manager Ernesto Valverde is urg­ing his players to focus on mak­ing a strong start to their league campaign, saying: “We want to get underway with three points.

“Our team always plays with intensity, even in friendlies, and if we can win against Malaga it would give us a lot of morale.”

Following the summer departure of German legend Bernd Schus­ter, hosts Malaga are now under the leadership of Javi Gracia, who was most recently in charge of Osasuna’s ultimately failed attempt to avoid relegation last season.

Another intriguing fixture on the season’s opening day will be con­tested between Sevilla and Valencia

 at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, with the hosts set to give league debuts to Barcelona loanees Gerard Deu­lofeu and Denis Suarez as they face up to life without former captain and new Barca star Ivan Rakitic.

The game also represents the dawning of a new era for visiting Valencia, who enter the campaign under new ownership following a protracted takeover by Singapo­rean businessman Peter Lim.

After two successive mid-table finishes, Lim has pledged to restore Valencia to their former position as title candidates, but his control of the club was confirmed too late for many major moves in the summer transfer market. One new arrival at Valencia is yet another manager, Nuno, who becomes the team’s fifth boss in the space of two years.

Elsewhere, newcomers Depor­tivo La Coruna make the long jour­ney south to face Granada and the late game sees Almeria host peren­nial mid-table side Espanyol

LA LIGA FIXTURES

Saturday
21:00 Malaga v Athletic Bilbao
23:00 Granada v Deportivo
23:00 Sevilla v Valencia
1:00 (+1) Almeria v Espanyol

Sunday
21:00 Eibar v Real Sociedad
23:00 Barcelona v Elche
23:00 Celta Vigo v Getafe
1:00 (+1) Levante v Villareal

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