Athletic Club has defeated Espanyol by1-0, with a goal by Gaizka Toquero in the second…
Athletic Club has defeated Espanyol by1-0, with a goal by Gaizka Toquero in the second half. With this goal our team has its first three points of the competition and at the same time a certain degree of tranquillity after passing in the heat of August the ‘exam’ they’d been put to by outsiders with nine months still left to the end of the championship. The work and determination of a young team which must continue to improve has had its reward and these next two weeks will have to serve to recharge batteries, since the calendar as of this coming 13 September will not give a respite.
Athletic Club’s will has been evident from the start: constant attacks, dynamic game down the wings maintaining Espanyol in their field, while at the same time distancing them from their powerful offensive game. For this the coach has somewhat renewed the team that classified for the Europa League this past Thursday in Tromsø, concretely he presented a new line: Ustaritz, Gurpegi and Muniain. Once the puzzle was complete, we were left with a solid team down the centre and less speedy team to defend the wings and, most importantly, eleven rather young starters, with Gurpegi and Iraizoz as the veterans in the group. The inexperience was not at all noticed, in its negative aspect, because self-confidence was excessive at times, and the team has proven that their game level can also go in crescendo.
Athletic, without complexes and despite the sultry afternoon (17:00 hours is apparently not the best time to play on a Sunday in August) has set pace to the match and the occasions arrived right from the start: Gurpegi finished off a corner with a header in the minute 8, as a curiosity just point out that the strategy has been in the legs of both wingers, mainly Castillo, but Kameni brought out a good glove. In the following clearance Iraola made a good pass to Martinez, and although he was able to overtake Kameni, there didn’t seem to have existed contact and the player from Aiegi let himself go. Without respite, Llorente had a clear opportunity sixty seconds later, but after slipping his marker he fell asleep in the area.
Espanyol couldn’t reach, even though a bad pass has been intercepted by Tamudo on the quarter hour, but his shot from a distance was not successful. Shortly after, the later goalscorer Toquero appeared with a header from nowhere which Kameni sent to corner. Espanyol recovered at times and had more contact with the ball, not in vain do the better “players” stand out from the midfield forward. Despite it all, most of their options failed at the edge of the area with the exception of a wide header by Verdú in the minute 23. De Marcos made Kameni stretch in the 26, but both teams reached the break with no clear dominance.
Athletic Club carried the weight of the match, changing players from wings and even positioning Muniain behind Llorente and changing Toquero to the wing, but in vain. As far as clear-cut occasions, only a high header by Iván Alonso in injury time is note-worthy. At the interval, the only cause for disapproval by the fans was the work of the referee as they didn’t agree, without consulting the experts of course, with his decisions on several plays, his translation of cards, the application of the advantage law or the signalling of some off-sides.
The match had been until then quite intense and with little time for relaxing, although Espanyol was the one most interested in that the game did not run at an excessive speed. Athletic was winning at points, the picture was more than decent, but it was not enough to take the win on the inaugural day, disputed, let’s not forget, in the heat of summer.
And at the hand of the heat and the fact that for Espanyol this was its first match of official competition and for Athletic Club the seventh, the question arose: What would be the response, on a physical perspective, of both teams? The answer came rather quickly. Shortly after the start of the second half it was evident that Espanyol could not keep up with the game pace that our team imposed and little by little began to disappear, also by the influence of the tiresome rojiblanca initiative. Nakamura and Verdú were diluted at times and Moisés was forced take a step back to help in second plays. On the other hand, the Gurpegi-Javi Martinez pair kept on commanding their strength and Muniain was making more contact with the ball. However, the Athletic of the second half had too much feeling and vigour and perhaps lacked just a bit more clarity.
Susaeta was already on the pitch replacing an exhausted De Marcos, while Espanyol had already made its first forced substitution due to D. Garcia’s injury, whose position was occupied by Chica. Athletic persisted, the crowd had no reason to criticize and it was possible say, that’s what football has, that the team was assured the recognition for its generous effort, but a draw was not the same. Pochettino tried to play his offensive hand by bringing in Ben Sahar for Tamudo in the minute 78 and Yeste was also ready to replace a teammate, possibly Muniain. The referee did not let him in for the free-kick, the ball was still in the area and that’s when the goal arrived for the deserved victory. A ball sent back to Iraizoz was shot forward by the goalie, the ball came out ‘biting’ and after coming down Martinez headed it towards the centre circle where Susaeta lowered it on first try to place the ball deep to Toquero, who controlled it with his chest, advanced diagonally and shot from the centre of the box past Kameni. One – nil… and Yeste to warm up again, though he would eventually come in for Toquero and Gabilondo for Muniain.
There was joy on the field and in the stands and the advantage maintained in the final stretch. Even Llorente, after a good pass by Gabilondo, had a clear occasion of scoring a second, but his shot on goal was high. It was no longer necessary because Athletic Club had already met its objective. A result that is not bad for a finishing touch to this hectic August and more so considering that there are still ‘only’ nine months of competition left with its ups and downs, joy, deception and matches of all the colours, no matter how much one or two are still determined in making each match a final. Neither is the team a band, nor is everything done and well. Let’s see if together we can find the necessary moderation so as to not artificially increase the pressure that each match entails. Meanwhile, two weeks of hard work to confront a demanding autumn with guarantees and excitement.