Despite resting several starters, Athletic Club was able to see off visitors Espanyol to win their second straight match since the international break. A brace from Aritz Aduriz gave the Lions all three points and moved them into 5th place in the La Liga table. With only eight games remaining, the Basque giants are in great position to finish strong and qualify for European competition once again.
Both sides were missing key players with Espanyol’s Gerard Moreno suspended and Ernesto Valverde choosing to rest several starters. However, that did not really seem to have much of an impact on the game for Athletic Club who dominated from the opening whistle. It was clear that Benat and Ander Iturraspe were going to try to control the midfield and they did so well. However, after 15 minutes neither side had had an attempt on goal.
That all changed when Iker Muniain beat his defender in the box and was then taken down clumsily. Athletic were awarded penalty and Aritz Aduriz chipped his shot down the middle of the goal, beating the keeper and giving the home side an early 1-0 victory. It looked like the Lions were going to cruise to victory, but the Catalans refused to go down without a fight.
After another 20 minutes of battling for possession, things started to turn physical. Aduriz was fouled while challenging for an aerial ball just inside the midfield line. Benat stepped up for a long free kick and no one expected what would happen next. He whipped in an effort that found Aduriz unmarked and onside. The striker poked the ball past the keeper for his brace and gave Athletic a 2-0 lead in front of their own fans.
Not to be outdone, Espanyol nearly cut the lead to one when a free kick of their own was headed at goal. The ball bounced and was on its way to the top corner when Kepa Arrizabalaga was able to extend his arm and just deflect it away before falling into his own post. It was one of the best saves of the season, but the keeper was down for a few minutes with his back hurting. He was able to carry on and soon the halftime whistle sounded.
Espanyol came out of the break having made two changes and looking to turn the tides. Their physicality was able to give them more control of the midfield and Athletic began to play sloppy passes for each other. However, for every counter the Catalans had, the backline of Yeray and Aymeric Laporte stood strong and didn’t give anything easy. Espanyol would not get another good look at goal for the rest of the game.
Aduriz had a late chance to score his third of the night when a fumbled ball fell to him just feet away from goal. He blasted his shot but it bounced off the keeper and then off of the crossbar. The entire San Mames gasped with disbelief and the ball was soon cleared. From there, Athletic were comfortable simply controlling play and running out the remainder of the clock. After two minutes of injury time, the final whistle came with the Basques having won 2-0 and temporarily moving into the 5th place spot in the league table. Real Sociedad and Villarreal are still to play on Tuesday and their results could alter the standings.