Athletic Club earned their second straight victory in La Liga play on Sunday when they defeated visiting Girona 2-0 at the San Mamés. A first half goal from Iker Muniain put the Lions in control before Aritz Aduriz doubled the lead early in the second half. It was a brilliant defensive display from Kuko Ziganda’s men and the three points now have Athletic Club level with Sevilla for third place in the league table.
The Athletic players warned that Girona would be a difficult opponent and the beginning of the match definitely showed that to be true. For the first 15-20 minutes, the Catalans were the better side. They attacked well, defended in numbers, and did not let their hosts keep possession and dictate play. For a while it looked like Athletic were on the back foot and backed up into their own final third, but slowly they began to settle into more control. Finally, after 25 minutes of action, the Basques would get the chance to take the lead and impose their style of play.
Iñaki Williams got a beautiful breakaway down the right wing and swung in a cross into the center of the box. Aritz Aduriz was not able to make contact, but a streaking Iker Muniain ran onto the ball and volleyed it past Gorka Iraizoz to give Athletic a 1-0 lead. From there Girona knew they would have to take more chances if they wanted to get a result and the Lions took advantage. The home side was patient and did well to keep possession, attacking when the opportunity presented itself. Both sides had a few minor chances but the first half eventually ended with Muniain’s goal the difference maker.
The second half began with Athletic clearly looking to double their lead and kill off the game. They pushed Girona at every chance and started to open up the field which paid off in a big way. Once again, Iñaki Williams beat his defender down the right wing and pulled two more defenders out of position. He found Aritz Aduriz running into the box and played a simple pass into the open space. The striker calmly placed his shot into the bottom right corner to give Athletic a 2-0 lead and from there the game looked over.
Girona did not give up, however, and had a few chances of their own. Three times they were able to play the ball in between the defense, but every time it was dealt with beautifully. Once Iago Herrerín left his line to claim the ball and the other two times it was Unai Nuñez who made a beautiful tackle to keep the Catalans from pulling one goal back. In the dying minutes Iñaki nearly had a goal for himself when he cut inside and forced Iraizoz to make a diving save. The ball fell to Sabin Merino who almost added a third goal, but his shot rebounded off the post.
The final whistle soon blew with Athletic Club having won 2-0. The three points see the Lions move into a tie for third place in the La Liga table, along with Sevilla. It should also be noted that Athletic has earned a clean sheet in all three games so far this season. Kuko Ziganda’s team is playing at a very high level and will go into Thursday’s Europa League group stage game against Hertha Berlin with their heads held high. For now, it is time to rest and recuperate before that very difficult away match in Germany.
Athletic Club XI: Iago Herrerín, Iñigo Lekue, Unai Nuñez, Aymeric Laporte, Mikel Balenziaga, Beñat (Ager Aketxe 76′), Mikel San José, Iker Munian (Sabin Merino 81′), Raúl García, Iñaki Williams, Aritz Aduriz (Ander Iturraspe 64′)