Written off by many at the start of the season, Girona have truly defied expectation and perhaps along with fellow top flight new boys Getafe have been the surprise package of the 2017/18 La Liga season.
Whilst many may have thought that this would have been the case due to recent involvement and subsequent loan deals via the City Football Group which has led to the likes of Aleix Garcia, Douglas Luiz and Pablo Maffeo joining the Catalan outfit on loan for the current league campaign, instead Girona’s La Liga exploits have been largely due to sticking to the status quo. Machín’s masterful mixture of players who he can truly depend upon, numerous of which previously leading Girona to the promised land as pivotal parts of last season’s promotion to the top flight has proved a winning formula – one which even to the neutral looked destined to struggle from the very first whistle.
Unlike in the English game, much attention appears to be paid to what is classed in Spain as the ‘second round of fixtures’ with Girona following their 6-0 thrashing of an out of sorts Las Palmas taking great time to pay tribute to their achievements after nineteen La Liga games – and rightly so.
Nevertheless as with any fresh-faced, optimistic newcomer to their respective top flight, it can be very easy to get caught up in your own hype and successes from earlier in the season with the likes of Pablo Machín and club captain Alex Granell both calling for calm as well as stressing the importance of staying as hard-working, determined and motivated as they have been during the first round of fixtures this season. Such adjectives, whilst used in a plea by the ever reliable Granell, fittingly summarise each and every Girona performance on the pitch this season alongside their collective team spirit away from it.
Although on paper perhaps a mismatch in terms of individual star quality, top flight experience and spending power, Saturday’s match against high flying Atlético Madrid would neither have been undervalued nor underestimated in terms of its importance for Girona as a team looking to continue in the same vein as the previous nineteen matches. Girona’s bravery and never say die attitude is what has helped the club to establish themselves fully in La Liga and you’d be silly to think that Machín’s men wouldn’t have headed into their first ever trip to the Wanda Metropolitano with the same ethos. Such courage combined with unequivocal enthusiasm appears to have done the trick so far, producing results on the pitch and keeping squad members including a host of Manchester City loanees devoid of first team playing time happy away from it, so why fix something if it isn’t already broken?
For those that didn’t watch the game, whilst any loyalties clearly rest with Girona, I always try to assess a match and its outcome with an open mind and honest approach. That being said it is more than fair to say that despite the eventual 1-1 draw between both sides, Atlético Madrid looked by far the better of the two sides throughout the game.
Dangerous in attack, potent going forward and solid at the back, the first half had all the trademark signs of a typical Atleti victory as Girona were forced to defend well from the outset with both Jonas Ramalho and Bernardo impressing throughout the game. The second half however was a completely different story with Girona building on an encouraging end to the first half with an even more surprising re-entry to the game following the break.
Whatever Machín had said to them at half-time had certainly provided the likes of Johan Mojica and unsung hero Aday Benitez with an extra string in their step as Girona pressed doggedly for an equaliser. And so it came and through whom else other than Portu – the man who continues to surprise even the most devout of Girona supporters with his quality in front of goal.
With Olunga handed the tough task as a lone target man in place of an injured Cristhian Stuani, Portu’s goal was much needed but most definitely what Girona deserved after a second half in which the visitors kept on knocking at the Atlético Madrid door. A big shout out must also go to second half substitute Gorka Iraizoz, who despite his age and top flight experience has found himself out of favour with Bono the preferred shot stopper in recent months. Bono’s clash with Diego Costa in an attack which led to Griezmann’s goal meant that it was Iraizoz who would hopefully keep both Costa and Griezmann quiet for the rest of the game and when called upon he did just that, making a remarkable stop late on to maintain a point, saving from a close range Correa attempt.
As for Girona, an unlikely point maybe but one that they fully deserved – gone have the times where fans, followers and supporters from near and afar (including myself) thought they would be in the mix for relegation, instead Girona look more likely to fully consolidate their top flight position with games to spare.
A kiss of death hopefully not but there really is every reason to optimistic when watching Girona, as well as incredibly entertained with a brand of football that if replicated throughout the Spanish top flight, would help La Liga rival the English Premier League for being the most competitive and exciting competition in Europe, if not the world.
Next up for Girona an away day in southern Spain – will they be able to capitalise on recent managerial instability and make it six points from a possible six against their Andalusian rivals? If Saturday’s performance is anything to go by, you never know…