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Athletic Bilbao vs Girona preview: A battle for Champions League hopes

Athletic Bilbao and Girona meet on Monday in what could be a decisive battle in the race for Champions League qualification. Athletic have recently slipped behind Barcelona and Atletico Madrid and out of the top four after failing to win three of their last four La Liga matches (1 draw, 2 losses) – the most recent being an embarrassing 0-0 draw away to bottom side Almeria.

However, at home at San Mames, Athletic have not lost a single game all season. Athletic’s hopes of reaching the Champions League for the first time since 2014/15 have been kept alive by their current six-game winning streak at home in La Liga, which includes wins over fellow European contenders Atletico (2-0), Real Sociedad (2-1) and Las Palmas (1-0).

They should therefore not be afraid of Girona, despite the ten-point gap between the two teams, especially as the visitors’ season has been somewhat turbulent. Last weekend, they saw their dream of snatching top spot from Real Madrid evaporate as they were thrashed by Los Blancos for the second time this season (4-0 away). This was the fourth time in seven games (3 wins, 3 draws, 1 loss) that they have dropped points.

Head coach Michel said after the defeat that he believes a total of 73-75 points will be needed for Girona to secure their first-ever Champions League appearance. Given that the Red and Whites are unbeaten in the league this year against all teams except Real Madrid (17 wins, 5 draws; 2.55 points per game), there is no reason why they cannot reach that total, especially if they can continue to replicate their results against teams of similar standing, such as Betis and Real Sociedad (two 1-1 draws).

Players to watch: Athletic captain Iker Muniain remains a lucky charm. Indeed, in the club’s last La Liga outing, he enjoyed his seventh consecutive game as a goalscorer, in all competitions. Viktor Tsygankov has found the net in four league games in 2023/24, with the first leg against Athletic (1 draw) being the only one that Girona have not won.

Hot stat: Neither team has lost a league game this season after opening the scoring (Athletic 11 wins, 3 draws; Girona 11 wins, 2 draws).

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