Ibai Gomez set up two goals as Athletic Bilbao cruised to a comfortable 3-0 win over Levante at San Mames.
The midfielder was brought into the side after impressing from the bench in the UEFA Champions League play-off on Wednesday, and produced wonderful set-piece deliveries to set up the in-form Aritz Aduriz and Ander Iturraspe while Iker Muniain was also on target for Los Leones.
It was the perfect domestic response from Ernesto Valverde’s side, who were wrongly denied a late equaliser by goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz in the defeat at Malaga last weekend.
Champions League high
They were on a high though following their progression to the group stages of this season’s Champions League after beating Napoli on aggregate. Gomez was one of just two changes from their midweek victory as he replaced Carlos Gurpegi, while Mikel San Jose came into defence at the expense of Susaeta.
Levante opened the season with a 2-0 defeat against Villarreal and made three changes for their visit to the Basque Country. Loukas Vyntra came into defence for Issam El Adoua, Victor Perez replaced Andreas Ivanschitz in midfield and Jose Luis Morales partnered David Barral up front ahead of Victor.
They were forced into one as early as the seventh minute at San Mames, when left-back Nikos Karabelas suddenly pulled up clutching his hamstring – dealing Jose Luis Mendilibar’s men a big blow and put them very much on the back foot for the remainder of the contest.
Aduriz scored twice as Bilbao came from behind to seal their European advance on Wednesday, and he went close when he headed Gomez’s cross just over after some great work from the winger down the left. He was denied by a scrambling Jesus Fernandez next time around, as the keeper dived at his feet to block him after he was set by Muniain and Oscar de Marcos.
The striker was third time lucky though just past the half-hour mark. He arrived at the near post to meet Gomez’s corner, and glance home a header much to the relief of San Mames.
Gomez was involved again six minutes after the break when his free-kick from the right-hand side found another teammate’s head, with centre-half Iturraspe profiting this time from his textbook delivery.
Bilbao were completely dominant at this stage and they sealed the three points with 14 minutes to play. Aduriz’s shot could only be parried by Fernandez and Muniain was on hand to gobble up the rebound.
Very, very comfortable for Bilbao in what was another very good all-round team display. They deserved some luck after last week and although they have a fairly small squad, if they can keep most of them fit then they can embark upon another successful campaign.
Two defeats already for Levante and they desperately need to get some points on the board when they travel to Malaga in a fortnight’s time, otherwise they will already be in danger of slipping away from the pack.