Is It Only Downhill Now For Athletic Bilbao?

4 09 2012

The journey witnessed last season where Athletic Bilbao – under the stewardship of Marcelo Bielsa – reached two cup finals, helped restore some faith in the Spanish league and reminded a few naïve people that La Liga actually contains other competitive sides; despite the duopoly by Real Madrid and Barcelona. The way in which they tormented the likes of Schalke and Manchester United in the Europa League helped establish them as everyone’s second favourite team, not only for their playing style, but also their policies.

Athletic have a unique viewpoint in the way they run as a club. The notion of the squad only consisting of players with Basque heritage helps connect themselves with the fans and keep regional identity alive. This was a policy mirrored by their rivals Real Sociedad, who eventually adopted the traditionalist format after become furious with Athletic for buying their players. Notably John Aldridge was the first non-Basque player to represent Los Txuri-urdin. Despite the policy being admirable, albeit slightly more flexible nowadays, it has not always been successful. As recently as five years ago the club only stayed up with a last matchday victory over Levante. A trophy has not been paraded around San Mamés for 28 years, since their domestic double in 1984. Historically, Los Leones are one of the greatest teams in Spain. Throughout the 1930’s they amassed seven trophies, including three league titles. They also hold the prestigious award, along with Real Madrid and Barcelona, of competing in every top flight season since the inauguration of the league in 1929.

The style Bielsa has imposed on his team is a mitigating factor in the popularity for Athletic. El Loco, before taking the rein in Bilbao, had used a 3-3-1-3 formation in the World Cup with Chile, which provided an exciting tactical deviation from the norm of 4-2-3-1. The Argentine was hired at La Catedral to enthral everyone with an offensive philosophy. Previous coach Joaquín Caparrós had a more pragmatic approach and despite the stabilisation he instilled, he did not show enough to promise he could progress the team.

A Lot Depends On Whether Bilbao Can Retain Llorente

A Lot Depends On Whether Bilbao Can Retain Llorente

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How Will Real Madrid Function Without Higuain?

15 01 2011

Since taking over at the Santiago Bernabeu, despite a monumental slip-up against Barcelona, everything has been going rosy for Jose Mourinho. He has implemented a 4-2-3-1 system which the team have adapted to with ease. As the season has progressed, so have Real, who are playing some of the best football in the league; an added bonus for president Florentino Perez, who after sacking Manuel Pellegrini, accepted that winning is the most important policy. The Portuguese coach however has not been one for rotation, and after finding a first X1 he can trust, has been reluctant to alter the first team players. However a back injury to the ever reliable Gonzalo Higuain has left Mourinho in a dilemma. How will he replace the Argentine?

For the past three seasons Higuain has cemented the poacher spot in the team, and a return of 63 goals in his last 101 games had made it difficult for Karim Benzema to displace him. Higuain has mastered how to play the role. He has the ability to hold the ball up to bring others into play, he drifts out to the wings to create space for Cristiano Ronaldo to drive through the centre and also has the persistence of playing on the shoulder of the last man, which helps to stretch the oppositions defence, freeing space for Madrid to squeeze forward.

Benzema and Kaka have a Real Madrid lifeline.

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