Los Periquitos will attempt to maintain their good run at the home of los Leones...Fortress
The strong home form of Athletic Bilbao has been enough to keep the Basque side on the fringes of the European race, and coach Joaquin Caparros will hope that his side’s abilities at San Mames again come to the fore when they meet with Espanyol on Sunday afternoon.
On their travels, los Leones have been weak, and this was highlighted last weekend when they went down 2-0 against near neighbours Real Sociedad. For the first time this season, Athletic failed to find the net, and they would pay a heavy price for a couple of defensive lapses.
“We had two poor moments in defence, which cost us the game. For the second goal, we gave up ourselves,” Caparros lamented. “They scored the first goal, and then decided to put up a wall defensively. This didn't allow us to attack as much as we would have liked.”
At home Caparros can rely on his side a good deal more. All of their last four home games have been won, and the only sides to have avoided defeat at la Catedral this season have been Atletico Madrid, who were in the flush of early season form, and Barcelona.
There is further heartening news for Athletic as they have not lost a goal in front of their own supporters since Zaragoza struck back in mid-October. Los Periquitos may be positioned well in the league, but at San Mames it will be the hosts who will be favourites.
Focus On The Now
Espanyol coach Mauricio Pochettino could barely have hoped for this season to start any better. With 14 matches played, the Catalan club sit fourth in the standings and go into the weekend’s fixture in the Basque Country under little pressure from those below as they command a four point cushion to fifth-placed Valencia.
At the Cornella-El Prat they’ve been especially imposing, commanding the best home record in the division with the exception of Real Madrid. Los Periquitos have won seven from seven in front of their home support, and this has been a clear source of strength.
Barcelona may loom in the near future, but the Argentine boss is focussing on Athletic first.
“He who enters the stadium thinking about the Barcelona match, would be better staying at home,” the coach told the media. “The next match is always the most important to us, and deserves all of our respect. The goal is clear, to take three points, and a great virtue of this team is that is always gives 100 per cent. “
On their travels Espanyol have not always enjoyed a good deal of luck this term, but misfortune is not the only factor to explain four league defeats in seven road matches. Only in two of their away fixtures have los Periquitos even managed to find the net, and against an Athletic side who have scored in each one of their home matches, that is a disturbing statistic.
Tendonitis threatens the presence of Pablo Orbaiz for the weekend’s match. Iraola is making progress with his hamstring problems but isn’t training fully yet.
Aitor Ocio and Koikili are both back training with the main body.
Felipe Mattioni remains a long-term absentee because of a knee problem. Javi Lopez will be missing for another fortnight because of a muscular issue, while Ernesto Galan, Coro and Ivan de la Pena are also giving the coach a headache.
Javi Marquez and Raul Baena are both suspended.