Athletic walked into RCDE Stadium on Saturday with a challenge to overcome. It had been over 22 years since the Lions last won a league game on the road against Espanyol and the team was determined to put that streak to an end. Defeating Espanyol would be much easier said than done as Athletic faced a side desperate for points and building confidence under new manager Abelardo.
Espanyol pressed high up the field to start the match, forcing Athletic to clear the ball a number of times. However, it wouldn’t take long for the Lions to settle into a rhythm and start to establish control of the game. After two weak chances from Espanyol, Athletic would open the scoring with their first shot of the game.
Just 11 minutes into the match Iker Muniain would play a corner kick short to Iñaki Williams who sent the ball back to the captain. From their Muniain picked out Asier Villalibre running to the top of the box and the striker blasted a shot past the goalkeeper to give Athletic an early 1-0 lead. Having scored his first league goal, Villalibre enjoyed a special celebration with his teammates.
Being behind didn’t seem to faze Espanyol who continued to press and attack in numbers. The Catalans nearly had two clear chances on goal but came up short on both. The first saw Raúl de Tomás in on goal after Unai Núñez slipped but the forward’s pass in the box was cleared by Yeray. On the send, Jonathan Calleri split the defense but the pass hit his heel and bounced away.
In between those two chances Villalibre nearly doubled Athletic’s lead when a loose ball fell to him in the box. The goalkeeper was off his line but Villalibre’s shot was blocked by a defender. Espanyol began to build momentum over the final 15 minutes of the first half, though Athletic’s defense held strong. The Basques were content to hit on the counter and held their 1-0 lead going into the break.
Espanyol turned up the intensity in the second half and made it difficult for Athletic to enjoy much possession. The Lions would have their best chance to score again when Muniain sent Villalibre through on goal. Unfortunately, the striker was at a tight angle and only managed to put his shot into the side netting. Moments later Espanyol would finally draw level.
Confusion in the box allowed the ball to fall to Raúl de Tomás who put a shot past Iago Herrerín to make it 1-1 and bring the fans at RCDE Stadium to their feet. Garitano soon responded by bringing on Raúl García followed by Beñat and Kenan Kodro but the Lions were unable to find a winner after four minutes of stoppage time. The winless streak in Catalonia was extended and, while a point is valuable, the result feels more like a loss than a draw with very difficult matches on the horizon.