Evening all! Sports Mole
's live La Liga coverage continues from San Mames as in-form Athletic Bilbao
welcome struggling Almeria. The home side have their sights firmly set on a top-half finish, but Almeria are now facing a serious battle to remain in the division. Almeria's last trip to this stadium ended in a 6-1 defeat, while they have lost four of their last five matches against the Basque outfit.
There was a certain amount of doom and gloom around Bilbao after Christmas, but results and indeed performances have picked up in recent weeks. They recently booked their spot in the final of the Copa del Rey against Barcelona, while they have won each of their last three in the league, with last weekend's 2-1 success at Celta Vigo moving the Basque side into eighth spot in the table.
Almeria, however, are without a win in their last five in the league. They picked up a home point against Villarreal last time out, but are still 16th in the table and level on points with 18th-place Levante. Almeria have incredibly won five times on the road this season, but they have recorded just one win on their own patch – scoring just nine times in the process.
BILBAO: Iraizoz; De Marcos, Etxeita, Laporte, Balenziaga; Benat, Rico; Ibai, Muniain, Guillermo; Williams
ALMERIA: Julian; Michel, Velez, Trujillo, Dubarbier; Verza, Thomas, Corona; Silva, Hemed, Edgar
Here we go then. Both sets of players join us on the pitch for the first period. Can Almeria shock the home side here? We shall soon find out. It is the hosts that get the action underway.
Just a quick word on the team news - Aritz Aduriz is out injured for the home side and as a result, Guillermo Fernandez is given a start in attack. Inaki Williams also retains his place in the team. For Almeria, Wellington Silva
and Edgar Mendez will flank the lead frontman Tomer Hemed. Game on!
CHANCE! Almeria come close to taking the lead just three minutes in as Michel meets a corner from the left, but his hooked effort is just high of the crossbar. What a start that would have been!
Williams's pace is already causing Almeria problems, with the attacker forcing Julian to collect a high ball after burning past two defenders. You just get the feeling that the first goal - if there indeed is one - will be vital in this match. Bilbao will be looking for a fast start to proceedings.
Neither side has really settled in terms of possession thus far, with both teams conceding the ball in the final third. Silva attempts to get things going down the right for Almeria, but the Brazilian is crowded out in a wide area. Plenty of signs that Almeria have come to attack Bilbao this evening.
Muniain leads a counter for the home side, but Thomas is across to foul the Spaniard. That might have been a yellow card on another day. Williams is down the right for Bilbao moments later, but his cross is cleared. Can the hosts make the breakthrough from the resulting corner here?
GOAL! Bilbao 1-0 Almeria (Etxeita)
Yes they can! Bilbao open the scoring with nine minutes on the clock as Etxeita heads a super Benat corner into the bottom corner. We have lift-off at San Mames and it is Bilbao that lead.
You just get the feeling that Almeria needed to take the lead if they were to stand a chance of securing a positive result this evening. It is all Bilbao at the moment, with Williams causing so many problems in a wide position. A second at this stage of the match might well kill off Almeria already.
BOOKING! Dubarbier (Almeria) is booked for a lunge on Muniain.
CROSSBAR! The resulting free kick is eventually delivered by Benat and following a scramble, it falls for Ibai Gomez, who absolutely rattles the crossbar from inside the box. Wow!
Bilbao are running absolutely riot here. Almeria are well and truly on the ropes at San Mames!
I am not sure about some of the Almeria defending at the moment. They are all over the place! Bilbao are without their top scorer, but it is not showing here. Ibai Gomez is clearly in the mood as he strikes an outrageous volley from some 40 yards and it is not too far away from the top corner.
Almeria have the chance to ease some of the pressure following a free kick, but they are struggling to threaten in the final third. Bilbao have so much confidence running through their veins now.
BOOKING! Ibai Gomez (Bilbao) is booked for a poor challenge on Silva.
Almeria have the chance to threaten from the resulting free kick following that late Ibai Gomez challenge, but the set piece from Verza lacks quality and is punched clear by Iraizoz.
Almeria defender Michel took a fist in the face from Iraizoz there and looks in trouble.
Michel is back to his feet and should be fine to continue once a quick medical procedure has been undertaken. It was a nasty blow to the full-back's face. Bilbao remain on top at San Mames.
Bilbao force another free kick in the Almeria half as Dubarbier pulls back Williams. Benat delivers the resulting set piece towards the far post, but Julian takes no risks and punches clear of the box.
CHANCE! Another wonderful chance for the home side as De Marcos delivers a stunning cross towards Guillermo, but Michel just does enough to head clear. Excellent defending from the full-back there!
GOAL! Bilbao 2-0 Almeria (Rico)
Special, special goal! The home side double their lead with 26 minutes on the clock as Rico chips the goalkeeper from outside the box. Julian had come to clear a deep cross from Williams, but his punch found Rico, who lifted one into the back of the net. The midfielder made it look so simple!
Almeria are facing the possibility of being absolutely blown away here. Silva takes matters into his own hands for the visitors, but his effort from outside the box was always rising high and wide.
Just a reminder that there is another La Liga clash taking place at the same time this evening, with Granada currently drawing 0-0 against Eibar. Back to San Mames, Almeria threaten in a wide area as Silva delivers a cross towards Hemed, but the striker cannot make contact at the far post. Silva is dangerous.
CHANCE! Wonderful chance for Almeria this time as Thomas drives to the edge of the Bilbao box before finding Hemed, but his low strike is saved by Iraizoz. Edgar Mendez comes close to picking up the pieces, but the home side manage to scramble clear. Much, much better from Almeria there.
Little over 10 minutes of the first period remaining and Bilbao are in complete control here. Almeria will have to start taking chances in the final third, which could open more space for the hosts.
Half-chance for Guillermo this time as the Bilbao forward does brilliantly to turn outside the Almeria box, but his low effort is deflected wide for a corner, which Almeria manage to clear.
CHANCE! Rico comes close to scoring a second for the home side after meeting a loose ball inside the box, but his placed effort towards the bottom corner is tipped wide by Julian.
CHANCE! It is Muniain's turn to come close as the Bilbao attacker finds space inside the Almeria box, but his curling effort just misses the far post. Almeria just cannot defend at the moment here.
Edgar shows his frustration for Almeria as he is given a long ball to chase, which runs out of play. At 2-0, Almeria are just about in the game, but 3-0 probably ends their challenge this evening.
It has been a decent spell for Almeria in the last couple of minutes, but they are struggling to really threaten Iraizoz in the Bilbao goal. Silva in particular has been a threat for the visitors.
CHANCE! Another wonderful chance for the home side as Ibai Gomez meets a cross from De Marcos, but somehow Julian makes another wonderful save. Good grief it could be 6-0!
Three points for Bilbao this evening would keep them in eighth, but they would be four points ahead of ninth-place Celta Vigo. Almeria, meanwhile, would remain in 16th position as it stands. In truth, this game should already be done and dusted - if it isn't already. Almeria have a lot of work to do.
HALF-TIME: Bilbao 2-0 Almeria
So there we have it. The referee brings the first period to a close with Bilbao leading 2-0 courtesy of goals from Etxeita and Rico. In truth, Bilbao could be five or six ahead. They have absolutely dominated proceedings at San Mames, with Almeria struggling to cope with the pace of the match.
STATS! The home side have dominated the possession with 63%, while they have had 13 attempts - four of which have been on target. Almeria, meanwhile, have hit the target with just one of their four attempts. That have also been two yellow cards - Dubarbier (Almeria) and Ibai Gomez (Bilbao).
BENCH WATCH! Not that Bilbao need reinforcements at the moment, but head coach Valverde has options on his bench in the shape of Iraola, Iturraspe, Sola and Susaeta. Almeria boss Juan Ignacio Martinez, meanwhile, has the likes of Azeez, Espinosa, Soriano and Zongo in reserve this evening.
Here we go then. Both sets of players join us on the pitch for the second period. Can Almeria found a route back into this match? It will be tough. The visitors resume the action at San Mames.
No changes from either side at the break, which is not too surprising at this stage of the match. However, I suspect that alterations will indeed occur as the second period gathers pace here.
GOAL! Bilbao 2-1 Almeria (Balenziaga OG)
Almeria are back in the match after 47 minutes as Balenziaga deflects Silva's powerful strike past his own goalkeeper from just outside the box. Well, that came from absolutely nowhere, but some of the defending in the build-up was very poor from Bilbao. Now we have a real game on our hands!
BOOKING! Velez (Almeria) is booked for a poor challenge on Ibai Gomez.
Without stating the obvious, the next goal in this match is absolutely vital. Another for Bilbao at this stage would place them in a strong position, but Almeria have their tails up in this half.
It appears that Balenziaga might be given that goal. It took a big deflection off the defender!
CHANCE! Wonderful chance for the home side to score a third as Williams sets up Ibai Gomez inside the box, but the Spaniard's effort is blocked on route to goal. Good spell for Bilbao here.
In fairness to Bilbao, they have been in complete charge of this match since conceding. Almeria's threat continues to arrive on the counter and at 2-1, they are very much in this game here.
Little over 30 minutes of football remaining at San Mames and you just get the feeling that this game is far from finished in terms of goals. Neither side is defending particularly well here!
CHANCE! Wonderful chance for Bilbao to score a third as Benat delivers a super cross into Williams, who rises above the Almeria defence, but his header was always high of the crossbar. Almeria are preparing to make a double change, which is not too surprising at this stage of proceedings.
SUBS! Almeria make a double change as Soriano and Zongo replace Corona and Silva.
Zongo's pace will certainly offer Almeria a different threat in the latter stages of this match, but they need to keep it tight at the other end. The home side have a half-chance as Balenziaga delivers a deep cross from a wide area, but there are no takers and Almeria restart with a goal kick.
Still no movement on the Bilbao bench, but it would not be a surprise to see Valverde make changes in the next five minutes or so. Guillermo has struggled in the second period here.
Good spell of pressure from Almeria in the last couple of minutes, but they are finding it difficult to really threaten Iraizoz in the Bilbao goal. At 2-1, however, there is always a chance for the visitors.
Not too much to report in terms of chances in the last couple of minutes, which is good news for Almeria, who have managed to stem the flow of pressure. Still no movement on the Bilbao bench, but I suspect that alterations will soon take place. Little over 20 minutes remaining at San Mames.
The referee has been busier than he would have liked in the last couple of minutes following a host of late challenges. Bilbao, meanwhile, are preparing to make their first change of the match.
SUB! Iraola replaces ibai Gomez in Bilbao's first change.
You just get the feeling that Almeria will have at least one chance in the remaining 20 minutes or so here. In truth, Bilbao should be already out of sight following their first-half performance.
The atmosphere has just dropped inside the stadium as both sides continue to concede possession in the final third. In truth, not too much is happening at the moment as we approach the latter stages.
Good pressure from the home side in the last couple of minutes as Balenziaga wins another corner down the left, but the resulting set piece from Benat is too far and Almeria have a throw-in.
SUB! Bilbao make their second change of the match as Iturraspe replaces Williams.
Almeria are still in with a chance of snatching something from this match as we approach the final 10 minutes. In truth, chances have been few and far between in this second period thus far.
SUB! Soriano (Almeria) is booked for dissent.
Bilbao work the resulting free kick into Benat, but the midfielder's effort was always straight into the arms of Julian, who has not been too busy in this half. Still Bilbao lead 2-1 at San Mames.
Little over five minutes of football remaining and Almeria cannot really get into the match at the moment as Bilbao continue to gain free kicks in the final third. You still get the feeling, however, that there could be something in this for the visitors, who are preparing their third and final change.
BOOKING! Laporte (Bilbao) is booked for dissent.
SUB! Almeria make their third and final change as Espinosa replaces Mendez.
Not long remaining at San Mames and Bilbao are pretty comfortable it must be said. Every time Almeria break into the final third, the referee's whistle brings their attack to an end.
SUB! Bilbao make their third and final change as Sola replaces Guillermo.
Bilbao continue to threaten as Benat delivers another deep cross towards the far post, but there are no takers. Almeria are entering last-chance saloon at San Mames there is no doubt about that.
BOOKING! Hemed (Almeria) is booked for a strong challenge on Etxeita.
We are into the second of three added minutes here.
RED CARD! VELEZ!
Almeria are reduced to 10 men as Fran Velez
is sent from the field for picking up a second yellow card in an incident with Sola. Velez rushes off the field!
BOOKING! Thomas (Almeria) is booked for fouling Muniain outside the box.
Benat fires the resulting free kick high and wide and that should be that.
FULL-TIME: Bilbao 2-1 Almeria
So there we have it. The referee brings the second period to a close with Bilbao running out 2-1 winners against 10-man Almeria. Thanks for joining Sports Mole for the action. Good evening!