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PSG the perfect distraction for Athletic

Athletic Club midfielder Javi Martínez has warned Paris Saint-Germain FC his side will be looking to turn the form book on its head when the Ligue 1 high-fliers visit Spain on matchday two.

Athletic have struggled in the Spanish Liga but won on matchday one in Group F
Athletic have struggled in the Spanish Liga but won on matchday one in Group F ©Getty Images

Two clubs experiencing contrasting fortunes meet at San Mamés on Thursday, when Athletic Club welcome big-spending Paris Saint-Germain FC in the UEFA Europa League.

While the hosts have taken just two points from their first five Liga outings, PSG arrive unbeaten since the opening day of the Ligue 1 season, on a run of eight wins and two draws in all competitions. On paper the visitors will start the Group F contest as favourites, but Athletic midfielder Javi Martínez is refusing to let his club's stuttering domestic form get him down, insisting a victory for the Basque team − second-bottom of the Liga − could provide a significant "psychological boost".

Javi Martínez, a member of Spain's 2010 FIFA World Cup-winning squad, said: "You can take it in two ways − get depressed or motivate yourself to do better. For me, adversity is a motivating factor; it brings out my best side and makes me want to improve.

"We've got three points on the board [from the matchday one win at ŠK Slovan Bratislava] and a victory on Thursday night would mean an important step taken towards our first objective, which is to qualify from the group. Winning is always good, but in the case of this specific game it would give us a psychological boost because we know we would have done so against a great team."

Part of the Athletic side that reached the last 32 of the inaugural UEFA Europa League two seasons ago, Martínez – who concedes it "took me a while" to adjust to a more defensive role under recently appointed coach Marcelo Bielsa – is relishing the prospect of pitting his wits against the joint-Ligue 1 leaders. "PSG have invested a lot in internationally renowned players with a lot of quality, but the Europa League is a long competition in which surprises can occur," said the 23-year-old.

PSG will hope Thursday is not one such instance as they look to build on their opening 3-1 win against FC Salzburg. Coach Antoine Kombouaré, perhaps with one eye on Sunday's top-the-table encounter with Olympique Lyonnais at the Parc des Princes, did not include striker Kevin Gameiro and winger Jérémy Menez in his travelling party, while Guillaume Hoarau (shoulder) is also missing.

One visiting player particularly looking forward to the occasion is Nenê, who recalled scoring at San Mamés for Athletic's Basque rivals, CD Alavés. The Brazilian, who also had spells in Spain with RC Celta de Vigo and RCD Espanyol, said: "The people are close to the pitch and there is always a good atmosphere. I have played here and have won and lost." While the form book may suggest he is unlikely to be on the losing side this time, Javi Martínez and Athletic will have other ideas.

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