The key now for manager Ernesto Valverde and his players is to avoid a repeat of the shock 0-1 fourth-round loss to relegated Las Palmas that preceded their disappointing 16th-place finish in that season.
Athletic Bilbao’s new LaLiga season is following an eerily similar path to the 2017/18 edition, the last time they opened a new LaLiga campaign with three consecutive clean sheets. On that occasion, their season began with a scoreless draw, a 1-0 win and a multiple-goal victory – just as 2022/23 has following their thumping 4-0 victory at struggling Cadiz. The key now for manager Ernesto Valverde and his players is to avoid a repeat of the shock 0-1 fourth-round loss to relegated Las Palmas that preceded their disappointing 16th-place finish in that season. An unfortunate ankle sprain to legendary forward Inaki Williams presents a new challenge for Athletic, for his all-time record of 236 consecutive LaLiga appearances may come to an end.
Espanyol will also be feeling a sense of regrettable deja vu after a third consecutive top-flight season with no wins from their first three outings. It is of no concern yet to new manager Diego Martínez, who is yet to live up to the promise of taking Granada from the Segunda Division to consecutive top-half LaLiga finishes. Martínez drew positives and was left feeling “proud” of their 1-3 home loss to Real Madrid, which gives an insight into his humble expectations of their season. The visitors narrowly held onto their place in LaLiga at the end of 2021/22 despite one of the poorest travelling records of all teams, which now stands at a near-worst as pre-match outsiders since the beginning of last season. That points to a repeat of Espanyol’s previous two trips to Athletic, both of which resulted in defeat and potentially an 11th consecutive league start without victory.
After nailing down victory against Cadiz last round, Alex Berenguer has scored in each of Athletic’s last three LaLiga victories. Joselu has now scored in three of his previous four LaLiga appearances for any club but has failed to make an impact in the opening half hour. All but one of Athletic’s last ten LaLiga fixtures have seen the half-time result replicated at the final whistle.