As Athletic welcomed Espanyol to San Mamés on Friday night they knew it was going to be a fight. The Catalans have been one of the strongest defenses in La Liga over the past month and getting a good result would take a strong performance. As expected, the game opened up with Athletic on control, but their visitors weren’t afraid to take their chances when in possession.
After just 9 minutes Athletic were stunned as Espanyol took a 1-0 lead. The defense was pulled out of position and Esteban Granero found Wu Lei streaking into the box. He headed the ball to Facundo Ferreyra who easily beat Iago Herrerín. Instead of hanging their heads, the Lions immediately responded by taking complete control of the game and they had the roaring support of San Mamés.
Iñaki Williams and Iñigo Martinez both had headers in the box with the first being off target and the second forcing a save from the keeper. Then Iñaki had a great touch before sending a beautiful cross across the face of goal, but no one was there to finish it off. The Basques may have dominated possession and pinned Espanyol in the final third, but the first half would end without an equalizer.
Seeing that his team were not able to capitalize on all the crosses and set-pieces they were getting, Gaizka Garitano brought on Kenan Kodro for Iñaki to start the second half. Athletic picked up right where they left off. While Iker Muniain danced in between defenders the wingers were constantly looking to work the ball inside as Espanyol held their ground.
With just 15 minutes left to go Garitano brought on Ibai Gómez for Markel Susaeta and that proved to be the difference maker. In the 80th minute Gómez cut inside and used the outside of his boot to cross the ball to Raúl García. The midfielder flicked a header on goal that snuck just inside the far post to pull Athletic level at 1-1 with time left to look for a winner.
García nearly found that second goal in the 87th minute when he got a free header in the box from a corner kick. Unfortunately, he sent his effort straight to the goalkeeper. In the final moments of the game Athletic sent in several crosses and corner kicks but were unable to put the ball in the back of the net. The game would end 1-1, but the draw felt almost like a victory due to the great performance and the fans at San Mamés were full of support for the Zurigorri.
Athletic will now start preparing for next Saturday’s match against Atlético Madrid which will also take place at San Mamés. It will be the last game before the international break and thus an important fixture heading into the final stretch of the season. The Lions have yet to lose a home game under Garitano, although this may be the biggest challenge yet.