What is going on at Athletic Bilbao? Since they reached the Europa League final last season, their form has been terrible.
Since they beat Sporting Lisbon in the Europa League semi-finals, Bilbao fans have seen their team lose two finals, and endured a slow start to the new La Liga season with only two wins in their opening nine games.
Every day appears to bring more stories of problems within the camp. From a confrontation between Marcelo Bielsa and the club over the building work on the training pitches, Javi Martínez moving to Munich, the problems in renewing Fernando Llorente’s contract, and the leaked recordings of Bielsa’s team chat at the end of last season, there has been little for fans to cheer for.
And the Bilbao problems are not limited to off the pitch. On the pitch, the team’s all-out attacking approach, its weaknesses from dead-ball situations and some occasional individual mistakes have combined to wreak havoc: 19 goals conceded in nine games. Meanwhile, injuries and suspensions have also added to the team’s defensive problems.
Llorente, who has finally got over the conflict about his future, is in the squad, but hasn’t been on top form. In fact, he’s become more of a problem than a solution.
Marcelo Bielsa is staying loyal to his ideals, which seem to be set in stone. He won’t consider altering his 4-3-3 formation, even though he’s missing one of the team’s most influential players though injury, Ander Herrera. Whilst, in his absence, Muniain has acted as playmaker and Ibai has operated on the left wing, the team has only beaten Valladolid at the San Mamés stadium.
The manager’s lack of flexibility makes life easier for those who come up against Bilbao. Almost every team has been able to find a system that can make the most of the frailties and gaping holes in Athletic’s game.