The international break has finally come to a close and that means that Athletic Club will be back in action. On Sunday they will host Girona at the San Mamés and will be eager to continue their strong start to the season. With Girona coming to town it also means the return of former Lions Gorka Iraizoz and Jonas Ramalho. This will be a very special match, but also a difficult one. The Catalans are playing with a lot of confidence so Kuko Ziganda’s side must be ready for a fight in the Cathedral.
Athletic Club has been in fine form to start the season and the players want to keep that going. Through six games they have earned four clean sheets and have yet to be beaten. On Sunday they will host newly promoted Girona and will be hungry for three more points which could see them cement their place near the top of the table. The San Mamés has been a fortress for the last few years and the fans will be hoping to continue that trend this weekend. Still, Girona will not be an easy opponent and could put up a huge fight in their first ever away game in the Primera.
Girona have been one of the darlings of La Liga since being promoted for the first time in club history. Through their first two games they have played Atletico Madrid to a 2-2 draw and beaten Malaga 1-0. Both games came at home, but the trip to the San Mamés will be the team’s first away game ever in the top flight. That may be a difficult fact to overcome, but with former Athletic keeper Gorka Iraizoz in goal the Cathedral may not be quite as daunting this time.
Kuko Ziganda will be without Oscar De Marcos who is still nursing a sprained ankle, but does get back Ander Iturraspe who has yet to play this season after picking up a muscle injury during the preseason. There are other questions in the team as well. For one, Aritz Aduriz has dealt with lower back pain all week that saw him miss training sessions. He has been included in the squad list, but many believe that Iñaki Williams will start in his place. Meanwhile, Kepa Arrizabalaga has had a fever since Friday night and may not be able to play. His availability will be determined on Sunday. Regardless, Athletic will still be able to feature a very strong lineup coming off of the international break.
Historically, this will be the very first meeting between Girona and Athletic Club. The two sides have never faced off in a competitive match, but that isn’t going to stop them from having an intense clash on Sunday. The Lions want to continue their strong start to the year and keep pace at the top of the table, while Girona are riding high and are playing with confidence and no pressure at all. Despite what you may think, this is an unpredictable match.
With so many new players in the team Girona are still trying to figure out their identity. That will definitely play into Athletic’s favor, but that doesn’t mean they will be easy to beat. The Catalans have shown the ability to defend set pieces and aerial threats this season, which just so happen to be a big part of Athletic’s game. At the same time, striker Christian Stuani has already scored two goals and looks very dangerous this year. It will be up to Aymeric Laporte to keep the Uruguayan in check if Athletic want to walk away with all three points.
In truth, this may be a seriously defensive match from both sides. On one hand, Athletic has yet concede a goal in La Liga and there is no reason to believe that their back line won’t continue this form on Sunday. At the same time, Girona has played with three defenders and two wing-backs this year and it has worked well for them. The Catalans could clog up the box and make it difficult for the Lions to get solid chances at goal, especially with Gorka Iraizoz standing in between the pipes. If Athletic is going to win this game they will have to take advantage of the wings and dominate possession in the middle of the pitch. Luckily, those are two things that Ziganda’s team does well.
On paper Athletic Club is the stronger side and should be able to win, especially playing at the San Mamés. Still, there is just no way to predict how this one is going to go because Girona is such a wildcard. After playing to a draw against Getafe in the first home game of the season, Athletic fans are desperate for a victory and will be unhappy if the same thing happens on Sunday. Expect the Lions to come out hungry and looking to dominate from the very first whistle.
Projected Athletic Club XI: Kepa Arrizabalaga, Iñigo Lekue, Unai Nuñez, Aymeric Laporte, Mikel Balenziaga, Iker Muniain, Raúl García, Markel Susaeta, Iñaki Williams