El Centrocampista

BIELSA LEADS THE BILBAO REVOLUTION – How Athletic Club are lighting up La Liga

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The revolution is in full effect up in the Basque Country. After a few minor teething problems, the Marcelo Bielsa roadshow is finally up and running and don’t the Athletic fans love it.

Two defeats in 17 la liga games have seen los Leones consolidate a sixth place position ready for a final push for a Champions League spot come May and this week Bielsa’s side saw off plucky Mirandes to reach their second Copa del Rey final in four years, where they will again face Barcelona.

They’re also going strong in the Europa League, although they face a tricky looking tie against Lokomotiv Moscow next week before bringing the Russians back to Bilbao the following week.

Victory could see them set up a mouth-watering tie against English giants Manchester United, who crashed out of the Champions League in the group stages before Christmas.

It always threatened to be a good season of course, Bielsa isn’t known for his shy approach to football and their were many who believed Athletic could push for a top four finish this term.

However it didn’t start off according to plan and the team initially struggled to adapt to the style of football the Argentine coach was trying to install on them.  Winless in their opening five games, it wasn’t until they travelled to neighbours Real Sociedad for the Basque derby in October that the team began to show signs of change.

Bielsa was a somewhat controversial appointment of course, very much the personal choice of new president and former player Josu Uruttia who won the club election in July of last year, using the man who had reportedly just turned down the offer to coach Inter as his trump card in defeating president of four years, Fernando Garcia Macua.

Athletic had just finished a respectable sixth in the league table, securing a place in the Europa League, and former coach Joaquin Caparros could probably feel a little aggrieved he wasn’t reward with a new contract for his achievements. However the tactics Caparros employed to achieve the lofty league finish weren’t met with too much enthusiasm by the fans at San Mames, in fact they were openly criticised for the reliance placed on the tall but deceptively skilful Fernando Llorente.

There were some dour performances by los Leones last season if truth be told and the natives were becoming restless.

Cue Urrutia and his lunatic-in-chief, Marcelo Bielsa.

The allure of seeing Bielsa at the helm of their club proved too much for the club members and Urrutia won an election victory that saw a record turnout of over 22,000 socios.

Bielsa is one of the biggest characters in world football and is almost universally adored for his audacious approach to the way he likes his teams to play football. It is fair to say there are few quiet moments when ‘el loco’ is around but it would also be naive to suggest his coaching ability in anywhere approaching madness. There is a methodical and calculated strategy to the way Bielsa sets out his team and AThletic are thriving under his stewardship.

His last foray into coaching in Spain didn’t last too long of you will remember, as he walked out on Espanyol soon after being given the job in order to take over the Argentine national team, so he probably has a little to prove but the man who subsequently led los Albiceslestes to an Olympic gold medal and Copa America runners-up in 2004 is certainly doing a good job of it up to now.

Athletic have played some sublime football this term, once they got over their slow start obviously, and Bielsa seems to have finally found a perfect balance that has seen the team already cause problems to Barcelona once this season (a late Lionel Messi goal scraping an undeserved point for the reigning champions.)

Fernando Llorente has shown why he is currently one of the most coveted centre-forwards in Europe, and doing it in a manner far removed from his target man employment of last season. Javi Martinez is having another splendid season – leading to reports circulating in Marca this week that Real Madarid will be a making a few phone calls once the transfer window reopens in the summer, and Iker Muniain is, well, Iker Muniain – a future world star without doubt.

The next few games will be crucial for Bielsa’s side. They travel to Seville to take on Real Betis at the weekend before welcoming another side with Champions League aspirations, Malaga, to San Mames.

They then face a tricky double-header against Valencia and a resurgent Atletico Madrid, before a daunting trip to the Camp Nou in April.

However a solid Europa League performance in Moscow next week should set them up to finish the job back in Bilbao, and a morale-boosting passage into the next round of the competition.

Add to that a continuation of their current good form in the league and Athletic fans have every reason to be optimistic about the future, not to mention a certain day out in May of course for the cup final.

 




3 Comments

  1. FCB1899

    10 February, 2012 at 13:09

    I’m looking forward to the Copa final against Athletic and it will be a tough game for Barca. It was a tough game when to two teams met last year, made worse by the weather, but we were lucky to get a draw.

  2. PPAth

    10 February, 2012 at 13:18

    It is definitely a good time to be a follower of Athletic. Bielsa has been great this season after a slow start and an think the side can definetly get a final four spot.

    Llorente has been immense but the better he gets, the more he is linked with a move away which is frustrating.

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