After a 2-1 victory over Osasuna at El Sadar on Saturday, Athletic Club now have another huge opportunity in front of them. The Lions will host Espanyol on Tuesday at the San Mames in what could be the biggest game of the season so far. This game comes at a time that presents the perfect storm for Ernesto Valverde’s side to make a huge leap in the La Liga table and put a ton of pressure on their rivals looking to qualify for European competition.
As of now, Athletic are directly competing with two other clubs – Villarreal and Real Sociedad. Picking up three points against Osasuna brought the Lions within one point of Villarreal and two points of Real Sociedad. A win against Espanyol could see them jump both rivals and it couldn’t come at a better time.
Both Villarreal and Real Sociedad will be playing difficult games on the road. Villarreal will be traveling to Estadio Benito Villamarin to take on Real Betis who are always stiff competition in front of their own fans. The Yellow Submarine is not in strong form at the moment and could drop points against Betis. Meanwhile, Real Sociedad have an even harder test when they travel to the Vicente Calderon to take on Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid.
Atletico is known for being one of the strongest teams in La Liga at home and will want to continue adding to points to ensure that they see off competition from Sevilla. They will be heavy favorites against Real Sociedad who are winless in their last four league matches. With Villarreal and Real Sociedad in difficult positions that could see them drop points, Athletic Club must capitalize in front of their own fans.
To make matters even more positive, Athletic still has a shot at qualifying for the Champions League with a fourth place finish. Sevilla and Atletico Madrid currently share third and fourth place in the table with an 11 point lead over Athletic. While Atletico will be playing in a tough match against Real Sociedad, Sevilla will be traveling to the Camp Nou to take on Barcelona. The Catalans are currently two points off of Real Madrid for the top spot in the table and will certainly be fielding their strongest lineup against Sevilla. If Athletic can defeat Espanyol with Sevilla losing to Barcelona, the Lions would move to within 8 points of 4th place with 8 games remaining in the league schedule.
This week presents a perfect storm for Athletic Club to jump up the table and really establish themselves as a European contender in La Liga. After facing Espanyol, the Lions will be traveling to take on Villarreal directly which could further cement their place in the top 6. Regardless, this wonderful opportunity is rendered null and void if they can’t get the wing over Espanyol. With only three days in between games, Athletic Club must dig deep and get ready for an intense game against the Catalans. A victory could be the difference between qualifying for Europe once again and calling this season an entire disappointment.