In a World Cup year international breaks for friendlies inevitably become that bit more important than they would do normally. Yet for players that still have everything to play for domestically, it’s only they who know whether a trip home or away with fellow compatriots comes either as a welcome distraction or unnecessary obstacle.
Taking the eye of the ball (somewhat literally) and focusing efforts elsewhere, in this case internationally, has often been Girona’s downfall this season with the club struggling to return to winning ways following festive or short national team breaks. After the four breaks already this La Liga season, Girona have been defeated on three occasions albeit narrowly with their highest points scoring a mere draw against Real Sociedad following the November break. The minute that momentum stops, Girona do likewise and with a potential qualification to the Europa League still possible, this will therefore make for difficult reading for Girona supporters.
This Saturday sees Girona return to Montilivi after their most recent nine goal thriller against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu. Although it was the home side who reigned supreme almost a fortnight ago, Girona certainly gave an impressive account of themselves and truly demonstrated their top flight credentials once again to those who had previously touted the Catalan side for relegation. For what Girona lack in experience they most certainly make up for in raw talent, dogged determination and evident enthusiasm meaning that even against a side where one would expect a team like Girona to shut up shop and perhaps aim for a point, Machín’s side were unafraid of the outcome whilst sticking to their morals.
Levante now stand in Girona’s way in their quest for European Football, a side also with very much to play for as they look to guarantee top flight football next season. Coming into form at the right time with seven points out of a possible nine in their last three games, time is running out for Levante and with games still to play against Sevilla, Atlético Madrid and FC Barcelona in their final nine matches, Levante May fancy their chances against a Girona side known for not being fully at the races after almost two weeks away from club football. New manager Paco Lopez meanwhile appears to have breathed new life into a side that looked dead and buried at the turn of the year, taking Levante six points clear and out of the relegation zone.
As I’m sure you know by now, manager Pablo Machín is always incredibly reluctant to make wholesale changes to his starting XI unless for exceptional circumstances such as injury or suspension. Those who remained back home during this latest international break, the likes of Alex Granell, Portu and Borja Garcia, you would think are guaranteed starters whilst late fitness tests will surely be undertaken on Stuani, Mojica and Maffeo who have all featured for their national sides in recent days. As far as Girona are concerned, all season it’s been a case of if they’re fit enough to play, they’re good enough to play so don’t be surprised to see a familiar if not exact lineup to that against Real Madrid out on show this Saturday.
In-form goalkeeper Bono who has been incredibly influential weeks most notably with MOTM performances against Atlético Madrid and Villarreal is a doubt after leaving international duty with his native Morocco early due to injury. Gorka Iraizoz could therefore come back into the Girona starting XI to change with Bono who really has been irreplaceable after breaking into the first team earlier this season. Will he be a big loss if he doesn’t play? Definitely, although Iraizoz with his experience and the relative quality of attacking opposition he is up against, is an astute replacement.
Meanwhile depending on the energy levels of Cristhian Stuani and Michael Olunga who have traveled fair distances this international break, it is highly likely that Choco Lozano will feature in some capacity during Saturday’s game. Although Stuani has trained with the Girona squad ahead of this weekend’s game, there’s no denying that both the travel and the number of minutes accumulated already by the Uruguayan will at some point take their toll. Therefore heading into the most important part of their debut season, Machín could well surprise us by rotating Girona’s best chance for the Golden Boot with either one of Olunga or Lozano during the game.
And for a prediction? As it stands it’s more or less even-stevens between both teams with Girona and Levante playing each other on three occasions already this season. Whilst Levante had the better of Girona in the Copa del Rey, Girona ran out victors away from home with a 2-1 victory last November. Besides no matter what the outcome, with everything to play for you can almost count on driven displays by both teams.