MADRID (AP) — Girona was trying to lower expectations after proving itself a genuine contender for the Spanish league title with its biggest win yet in a historic start to the season.
A 4-2 statement win at defending champion Barcelona on Sunday put the Catalan club in sole possession of first place nearing the halfway point, and showed that it might have what it takes to keep up with the usual powerhouses in Spanish soccer.
But coach Míchel Sánchez was quick to point out that winning the league still isn’t the team’s main goal. He acknowledged that Girona can aspire for more than just avoiding relegation, which was the main objective at the start of the season, but it is too early to think about the possibility of lifting a trophy.
“I think mathematically we have escaped demotion, which was the goal,” Míchel said. “I don’t think we can keep up with Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid and win the league. It’s not our objective. But we are very pleased. Today soccer fans are a bit of Girona fans as well. A lot of people are saying, ‘these guys can play.’”
Girona has won 13 of its 16 Spanish league matches and is the team with most victories in the top five European leagues so far. It has a two-point lead over Madrid and is seven ahead of both Atletico Madrid and Barcelona.
Míchel praised his team for not being scared of Barcelona and challenging the defending champion from the start at the Lluís Companys Olympic Stadium on Sunday. He said it showed that the team has the character and attitude to try to fight for loftier goals.
“We are not in the lead because the top teams are struggling. It’s been a historic year for us,” Míchel said. “But winning it all still is something too far away to think about. When we get to the final third of the season we will see how things are and what our goals will be.”
Girona, partly owned by Manchester City’s Abu Dhabi ownership, has finished 10th in the league last season after three consecutive years in the second tier.
“Girona deserves a lot of credit. It has a great team,” Barcelona coach Xavi Hernández said. “It’s the best team I’ve seen play so far.”
Girona, which has the league’s best attack with 38 goals, has been near the top of the standings from the start. There were some doubts regarding Míchel’s team after it failed in its first big test — a 3-0 loss at home to Real Madrid in September. But that was Girona’s only defeat of the season. Its other setbacks were a draw at fifth-place Real Sociedad in its league opener and a home draw against sixth-place Athletic Bilbao last month.
“We’ll see what happens,” said Girona defender Miguel Gutierrez, who scored one of the goals on Sunday. “We are in the lead and we will keep fighting to stay in the lead. We have been doing things well and we need to continue like this.”
Xavi said it was an even match against Barcelona’s Catalan rival but the loss represented a step backward in the club’s rebuilding process.
“It’s our reality,” he said. “This is a Barcelona team that is being rebuilt. And this is part of it. You take a step backward to be able to take two steps forward.”
Barcelona next visits Valencia in the Spanish league, while Girona hosts Alaves.
Barcelona visits Antwerp in the Champions League on Wednesday. It has already secured a place in the knockout stage, something it had failed to do in the last two seasons.
AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer
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