Previewing Espanyol vs Athletic Club: LaLiga Matchday 21
The La Liga table is as tight as ever and Athletic are are still dreaming of European qualification. After playing 20 matches the Basques currently sit 8th in the standings and are just two points off of 5th place. This weekend Athletic will travel to Espanyol where a victory could ignite a surge up the table, but winning will require an excellent performance as well as ending a poor run that’s lasted over two decades.
While Athletic have often been a stronger side than Espanyol, the Lions haven’t won at RCDE Stadium since January of 1998. Julen Guerrero scored the only goal in a 1-0 victory but the following years have been challenging. Athletic have managed just 7 draws in the 21 matches since but did record a Copa del Rey win on the road in 2015 to advance to the final against Barcelona.
History aside, Espanyol have struggled for positive results this season. The Catalans enter the weekend still at the bottom of the table and have yet to win a league game at home. Espanyol manager Abelardo, the third coach of the campaign, is faced with leading the team out of the relegation zone and appears to be making improvements. Last weekend’s 2-1 win over Villarreal was the most impressive performance of the season and will surely give the players confidence ahead of Saturday’s match against Athletic.
The arrival of Raúl de Tomás is already paying dividends for Espanyol. Joining from Benfica, the striker scored on his debut in the win over Villarreal and was electric in attack. Big things are also expected from Adri Embarba after signing from Rayo Vallecano and the winger could make his debut this weekend. After resting a number of key players in the midweek cup match, Abelardo is expected to field a very strong lineup.
On the other hand, Athletic haven’t been in the best form over the past few weeks. The Lions have gone five straight league games without a win, but have managed four straight draws. The lack of victories has seen Athletic fall out of the top six and Garitano’s side must start adding more points if they are to stay in the race for Europe. A win on Saturday could lift the Basques as high as 5th in the table.
Athletic will be without starting goalkeeper Unai Simón who is still recovering from the mumps as well as midfielder Unai López who will be serving a one-game suspension. Iago Herrerín will continue in goal for the Lions but Garitano will be left with some big decisions to make for the rest of the lineup. The trip to Espanyol will be the team’s third game in six days which makes fatigue a factor. In addition, Yuri Berchiche has traveled with the team but will be a game-time decision due to thigh discomfort.
Aside from Espanyol’s desperation and success at home against Athletic over the years, the Zurigorri have the quality and motivation to win and take all three points back home to Bilbao. For that to happen Athletic will have to play their best football, defend well, and make the most of their chances in front of goal. In what may very well be one of the biggest games of the season, it will be up to Athletic to take the initiative and make a statement.
Projected Athletic Club XI: Iago Herrerín, Ander Capa, Yeray, Iñigo Martinez, Yuri Berchiche, Dani Garcia, Mikel Vesga, Iñaki Williams, Iker Muniain, Ibai Gómez, Kenan Kodro