Athletic Club defeated Espanyol on Tuesday by the score of 2-0 thanks to a wonderful brace by Aritz Aduriz. The victory saw the Lions move to 5th in the La Liga table, pending other matches across Spain, which moved them one step closer to qualifying for Europe once again. Following the game, Ernesto Valverde spoke to the media and praised his side’s ability to overcome a tough opponent.
“We have been critical, but here we are again. This was a valuable win. We are determined to achieve the goal that we have been pursuing since the beginning of the season. We cannot rule out anyone in the fight for Europe. We still consider Espanyol a direct rival. When the game is over and you have won, everything looks easier. It was not an easy game because we came from playing on Saturday, but this was a valuable win. The penalty turned the tide and helped us take control, we were strong in the area. We had options on the ball and created options in attack.”
Valverde went on to say that the Lions needed patience to break down the Espanyol midfield and that he needed to make changes in the squad to keep the team fresh.
“We needed to have patience because Espanyol can put up a block in defense and you have to keep playing the ball to find space. The 2-0 score was not comfortable, but we kept them at bay. You need fresh people to compete against opponents in a week like this. The changes were necessary and players stepped up.”
In closing, Valverde praised three of his players. Markel Susaeta and Kepa Arrizabalaga both had great games, while Yeray made his return after missing the last match with two fractured bones in his nose.
“I saw a good performance from Markel [Susaeta]. He gives us a lot, especially at the San Mames. Kepa had a great game as well. He had one strong save. He is an agile keeper under the sticks and continues to improve. He is showing us a lot of things and has matured immensely since the beginning of the season. He is young and there will be games where he has bad moments, but we are patient with him and have complete confidence in him. Yeray said he felt good.”
Athletic Club will be back in action on Friday when they travel to take on Villarreal. That match could go a long way to determining 5th place in the table, with Athletic currently holding the tie-breaker between the two sides. Everyone will be available for Athletic, so Valverde will certainly be fielding a very strong lineup.