El Centrocampista

ALL ABOARD THE CRAZY TRAIN – The Bilbao revolution is in full effect


There’s something happening up in the Basque country.

It began with a less-than-convincing start, but has been gathering momentum as the week have passed.

Whisper it quietly, but Athletic Club are changing.

Before we hear the cries of alarm, let me assure you they haven’t abandoned their philosophy of Basque-only playing staff.

No, there is a footballing revolution under way at San Mames, led by the enigmatic if slightly eccentric, Marcelo Bielsa.

Gone is the tried and tested 4-4-2 formation. Gone is the over-reliance on Fernando Llorente as a target-man, although he is still as destructive as ever in the air. And gone, well almost gone, is the rough and tough physical nature faced by teams traveling north to la catedral.

El loco has brought his flamboyant 3-4-3 (or more precisely 3-3-1-3) formation to La Liga and his team are finally beginning to understand what their madhatter-in-chief wants from them.

The early season confusion that saw them without a win until the trip to the Anoeta in week 7 has disappeared, in it’s place we have seen a more coherent, attacking side that are on an unbeaten run of nine games in all competitions.

Although they still only sit in ninth place and won’t be worrying the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona just yet, los leones are on the move after their poor start and sit a couple of wins away from a champions league spot.

They have had some great results along the way, especially in the Europa League where they again won last night, and will travel to the Camp Nou this weekend full of confidence.

Bielsa’s arrival at the club generated massive interest during the summer, with many observers believing he would not be able to stamp his trademark style on a club so traditionally-linked to their own way of playing football.

The fact he also replaced the popular and, it has to be said, very capable Joaquín Caparrós who guided the side to a respectable sixth place last term, added to the difficult task ahead.

The Argentinian tactician has done well so far however and it is of great credit to him, and his players, that they have put the disappointing start behind them.

Three defeats and just two points from your opening five games aren’t good statistics whichever way you try and look them.

Athletic’s fortunes have changed however since their last defeat, down in Malaga during the third week of September.

They now LOOK like a team, and within that team there have been some great performers.

In fact it could be argued that Athletic have the in-form player in La Liga at this moment in time in the shape of Iker Muniain.

The bullish attacking-midfielder has been in scintilating form of late – his display during the 3-1 victory against Osasuna last month was one of the best individual performances of the season, and the 18-year-old is beginning to show the maturity to match his undoubted quality.

Bielsa has given Muniain increased license to roam and this freedom has allowed the player to drop deep and drift to either flank, where he is been having great influence.

Another player to catch the eye has been Markel Susaeta. The winger has been a constant threat down the right side and is the ideal player for Bielsa’s attacking approach.

Ander Herrera is also continuing his imperious rise and the former Real Zaragoza man will surely be a mainstay of the Spanish national team over the next decade if he continues to excel.

It seems Athletic are blessed with potential at the moment, whether they are Lezama-grown or Basque sons brought home from other clubs.

Youngster Oscar de Marcos has also won rave reviews following his summer move from Deportivo La Coruña

However, it would be unjust to only single out individuals, as the up turn in form has been a collective effort.

There are just too many players too mention – always a sign of a great team.

It may be too early too predict where Athletic Club will break into the top four this season, thus securing a lucrative a Champions League spot, but the signs finally appear positive for Bielsa and his men.

The club are going strong in Europe and can boast some of the brightest young talent in the league, meaning the future is certainly bright.

One thing is for sure however, with Marcelo Bielsa holding the reins, it’s going to be one crazy ride.



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