Espanyol can call on a fit Joan Verdu for Sunday’s clash with Athletic Bilbao, a game Coach Mauricio Pochettino says is ‘fundamental’.
Verdu appeared to be a doubt for the game at Cornella-El Prat after injuring his ankle in the agonising defeat at Levante before the international break.
Pochettino then set alarm bells ringing when he claimed on Wednesday that the player was suffering from a chronic ankle problem. However, the former Deportivo midfielder trained normally on Friday and has now been named in a 19-man squad for the game.
“I feel much better. I trained with the rest of the group, even if it was just a light session. But I think I will be available to play if the coach feels he needs me,” Verdu said today.
However, Juan Angel Albin, Felipe Mattioni, Raul Baena, Sergio Garcia and centre-back Diego Colotto are ruled out of the game.
Espanyol are one of only two clubs, along with Osasuna, still to register a point after three matches, and Pochettino knows extending a 14-year unbeaten record at home to Athletic and finally putting something on the board is vitally important.
“This game is fundamental and the players must show that in the warm-up and in the 95 minutes that the match lasts,” the Argentine said on the eve of the game.
“We have spoken and thought about the game a lot over the last few days and the team is prepared for it.”
Athletic have had something of a slow start to the season themselves but Pochettino is expecting a tough game against a side coached by his fellow countryman Marcelo Bielsa.
“They are dangerous opponents who press hard, are very direct and intense, have great physical power and will ask a lot of questions of us.
“They are one of the best teams in La Liga. They have players who can make the difference and we need to be alert.”
The former Paris Saint-Germain defender also gave a nod to Fernando Llorente, who has been included in Athletic’s squad for a League game for the first time this season after failing to earn his desired move away from San Mames in the summer transfer window.
“He is big lad and can drag defenders all over the place. If he doesn't play Athletic might be aware of it a little more, but Bielsa has enough players in his squad who can provide cover.”
Espanyol squad to play Athletic Bilbao: Cristian Alvarez, Raul Rodriguez, Victor Sanchez, Tejera, Forlin, Stuani, Verdu, Rui Fonte, Longo, Kiko Casilla, Galan, Hector Moreno, Javi Lopez, Capdevila, Simao, Wakaso, Cristian Gomez, Christian Alfonso, Victor Alvarez