Ander Iturraspe's belter continues Athletic Bilbao's La Liga ascent

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Athletic Bilbao beat Espanyol 3-1 at San Mames Stadium last weekend, to extend their unbeaten run in La Liga to five matches. 

Bilbao lost five of their opening seven La Liga fixtures during a dreadful start to the season, which saw them plunder into 19th place after being humiliated in week seven by Real Madrid. 

The Basque side traveled to the Santiago Bernabeu to bare witness to the individual brilliance of Cristiano Ronaldo. Following an unstoppable Ronaldo hat-trick, Karim Benzema scored a brace to help Real Madrid secure a 5-0 victory over Ernesto Valverde's waning side.

Soul Searching helps produce turnaround

Following the defeat to Madrid, Valverde told AS: "We need to stop, examine the situation and make efforts to change something.

"We're a different team, we all have to look at ourselves and find character even though we're up and down [in form]."

Since then, Los Leones have beaten Sevilla, Almeria and Espanyol, whilst earning two respectable draws against high-flying Valencia and Celta Vigo. 

Defensive rejig gives Bilbao platform to build on

Valverde has evidently spent countless hours with the defence, as Bilbao have only conceded two goals in La Liga since their annihilation. Aritz Aduriz has increased his current La Liga goal scoring tally to five, as he aims to surpass his 2013/14 record of 16 La Liga goals. 

Espanyol arrived at the San Mames Stadium, having failed to win any of their away games in La Liga this season. Sergio's men have only managed to scrape two points from 0-0 draws against Almeria and Cordoba.

Bilbao proceeded to terrorize Espanyol on the right-side of the pitch, which led to the first goal. After winning a corner, Markel Susaeta whipped the ball onto the head of Aduriz who nodded Bilbao into the lead after just 29 minutes, with help from a wicked deflection off Espanyol's top goal scorer Christian Stuani.

Aduriz proves the difference maker

In the 44th minute, Aduriz intercepted a loose pass to help start a swift Bilbao counter-attack. At 33-years-old, his legs might not move as quickly as they once did, yet his footballing brain enabled him to slip the ball in between two backtracking Espanyol defenders and into the oncoming path of Borja Viguera who slotted the ball past the helpless Kiko Casilla. 

With one goal and one assist to his name, Aduriz could already see his name in the Basque newspapers. But in the 78th minute, Mikel Rico flicked the ball into the path of Bilbao's consistently great defensive-midfielder Ander Iturraspe, who proceeded to curl the ball in off the post from 30 yards out.

As the January transfer window approaches, Iturraspe's third goal in 196 appearances for Bilbao will certainly draw the attention of the European elite. Following an incredible year for Iturraspe, who earned his first two caps for Vicente Del Bosque's Spanish national team.

Iturraspe will be in high demand

Although, it will seemingly take a miracle to lure Ander Iturraspe away from his boyood team, after being born in Abadiño, which is a town located within the autonomous community of Basque Country. Also, he penned a new contract keeping him in the Basque Country until 30 June, 2017 unless a club activates his substantial buy-out clause of €40 million.

Espanyol managed to grab a consolation goal, when Victor Sanchez smashed the ball past Gorka Iraizoz in the 83rd minute. Bilbao were never in any real danger of losing the points, as they managed to hold on to their 3-1 victory. The three points mean that Bilbao have climbed up to ninth place in La Liga. 

Los Leones will only be displaced if Getafe manage to spring a surprise upset by beating Villarreal inside El Madrigal. Or, if newly-promoted Eibar produce the biggest upset in La Liga history by beating Real Madrid in their 5,250 capacity home stadium Estadio Municipal de Ipurua. 

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