Previewing Athletic Club vs Espanyol: LaLiga Matchday 11
The time has come for Athletic to make a statement. After a strong start to the season the Lions have gone five straight games without a victory and have fallen to 10th in the La Liga table. With Espanyol visiting San Mamés on Wednesday, Athletic will have the perfect opportunity to secure three important points and put the season back on track.
Athletic have fared relatively well against a Espanyol throughout history, winning 74 of the 176 total meetings, but have struggled in recent years. The Basques have gone four straight games without a win over Espanyol, two draws and as many losses, and have only managed three victories in the last 10 matches. Past results certainly aren’t encouraging, but Athletic understand just how big this game will be.
History aside, Espanyol are in a critical situation. The Catalans have arguably been the poorest side in La Liga this season which forced the club to make a managerial change earlier this month. Since taking over, new coach Pablo Machín has led the team to two wins and one loss across all competitions. Confidence is growing after the victory over Levante and a positive result at San Mamés would be a massive boost moving forward.
Espanyol have managed to score just 5 league goals this season while conceding 15, but the changes by Machín have brought improvements. The Pericos switched from a traditional four-man defense to now playing with three which seems to have given more defensive stability. Espanyol have allowed just one goal since Machín arrived, though they have continued to struggle in front of goal.
Despite Espanyol’s struggles to start the season, Athletic’s poor form over the past few weeks has the two sides separated by just five points in the La Liga table. The Lions have managed just two points over the past five games and are in desperate need of a good result. As Gaizka Garitano pointed out during Tuesday’s pregame press conference, Athletic have played much better in the last two fixtures but still have nothing to show for it.
Athletic have the luxury of a relatively healthy squad during this challenging stretch of the season. Only Beñat, who is sidelined with an ankle injury, has been ruled out for Wednesday’s match which means Garitano will have plenty of options to choose from. The manger did leave Oscar De Marcos out of the squad list, though the remainder of the group remains unchanged from the trip to Madrid over the weekend.
Based on the way Garitano has handled rotations so far this season, it’s very possible that Iago Herrerín will start in goal with Yeray returning to the team after sitting out Saturday’s match. The manager could also look to mix things up in attack with Ibai Gómez or Gaizka Larrazabal starting over Iñigo Córdoba. With a difficult trip to Villarreal looming on the weekend, Garitano will have to be wise with his selection but has admitted that there won’t be many changes.
There will be no excuses for anything less than a victory on Wednesday. Athletic are in desperate need of points and confidence which makes this match the perfect opportunity to set things right. As always, Athletic’s ability to finish chances will likely be the factor that decides the result at San Mamés. A big win at home could be the spark that jettisons the Basques up the La Liga table while a draw or worse will see concern reach new heights.
Projected Athletic Club XI: Iago Herrerín, Ander Capa, Yeray, Iñigo Martínez, Yuri Berchiche, Dani García, Unai López, Ibai Gómez, Raúl García, Iker Muniain, Iñaki Williams