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Girona visit Almeria aiming to take solo Liga lead

Girona players celebrate after scoring against Atletico Madrid last weekend. Photo: Pau Barrena/AFP

With Real Madrid away in Saudi Arabia for the Spanish Super Cup, Girona have the chance to establish themselves as solo La Liga leaders when they face bottom side Almeria on Sunday.

The Catalan minnows, shock title contenders, are unbeaten in 14 games across all competitions, since their one league defeat by Madrid in September.

Michel Sanchez’s side romped to a 4-2 win at Barcelona in December and edged a 4-3 thriller against Atletico Madrid last week to demonstrate their title credentials against the league’s other elite sides.

They will be without defender David Lopez, suspended for four matches after criticising a referee during their 5-2 win over Almeria in October.

In that match at Girona’s Montilivi stadium, the visitors went two goals ahead through a Leo Baptistao brace, but Michel’s team came roaring back with both dazzling football and determination to turn the game around.

It was another disappointing afternoon for Almeria, who are without a win this season and in grave danger of relegation, currently sitting 11 points from safety.

Girona started the season aiming simply to avoid the drop but find themselves level on 48 points with leaders Real Madrid at the halfway stage of the campaign.

Michel says his team are now hoping to qualify for European football next season, even though the table indicates they are serious contenders for the title.

“We cannot keep up with Madrid’s rhythm, we don’t want to put that label on ourselves (of title challengers),” said Michel after his team’s last-gasp win over Atletico.

However, the coach also said his team do not feel external pressure, unlike their more illustrious title rivals.

“Pressure from outside doesn’t exist for us because we have the feeling that we could win any game,” Michel told reporters before his team’s Copa del Rey win over Elche last weekend.

“We don’t have the obligation to win all games, but we are obliged to compete in all of them.”

Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti and his Barcelona counterpart Xavi Hernandez have both said they see Girona as title contenders.

While Spain’s traditional big two have to worry about the Champions League, or this week, the Spanish Super Cup, Girona players can rest and focus on their next La Liga objective. 

Despite Lopez’s suspension and Barcelona loanee Eric Garcia’s absence through injury, Girona will be confident of moving three points clear of Madrid.

The Catalans are the top scorers in La Liga with 46 strikes while no team has conceded more than Almeria, who have shipped 43 goals.

A fifth victory in six league games would put the ball back in Real Madrid’s court.

Player to watch: Oihan Sancet

With striker Inaki Williams away at the Africa Cup of Nations with Ghana, Athletic Bilbao will hope midfielder Oihan Sancet can contribute goals from midfield. The 23-year-old, who made his Spain debut last year, has three goals in 17 appearances in La Liga this season but hit 10 in the previous campaign. The Basque derby against Real Sociedad would be an ideal time to start finding that form again.

Standings provided by Sofascore

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