Bielsa and his Los Leones project

Argentine coach Marcelo Bielsa moved to the North of Spain last summer as the new Head Coach of Athletic Club in an agreement struck with Josu Uruutia who emerged as the new President of The Cathedral club.

The general question popping on minds was how will El Loco perform at club level after a 13 years hiatus from day-to-day club activities. His last club spell coincidentally was in Spain with Espanyol. He left after just six games in charge of the Barcelona-based club leaving them languishing in 18th position on the log.

Now, it’s a different scene. Athletic’s fortune improved greatly under the guidance of departed Joaquin Caparros with the club finishing eight and sixth position respectively in the last two campaign including a runners-up medal in the 2009 Copa del Rey final. A high precedent had been set and the jury will be out on Bielsa considering how the new Mallorca coach (Caparros) had to leave his post.

For a historic club like Athletic, finishing in the top-eight shouldn’t be a huge achievement, however, the club’s tradition of playing cantera players and only signing players with Basque origins makes it challenging in this modern era.
The composition of the young dynamic team inherited by Bielsa has a solid spine in Fernando Amorebieta, Andoni Iraola, Javi Martinez, Carlos Gurpegi and Fernando Llorente while not forgetting the talented Iker Muniain.

How will the master tactician achieve his set objective?

Athletic Bilbao coach Marcelo Bielsa...

Bielsa built a reputation with his 3-4-3 formation when he was in charge of both the Argentine and Chilean national teams respectively. Only Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona has played with such formation in some games this season while the traditionally spanish game has thrived in a balanced 4-2-3-1 system with the regular back four, two central midfielders (depending on various role assigned to them) two wingers, an attacking midfielder and a striker. It prognosticate how his 3-4-3 format will work with his team expected to pressure higher up the pitch and run a risk of being caught on the break with a counter attack.

El Loco has tinkered his team with various formations since his arrival during the pre-season, during the Europa league qualifiers and right up to the league matches too. With three wins, five draws and three defeats in his first eleven league games, it appears his team is still in a learning process but they impressed in last Sunday 2-2 draw against champions Barcelona.

Athletic’s approach to the game was commendable though I wasn’t totally surprised since they hosted the Blaugrana’s at the Lions den. They were unlucky not to snatch a victory in the end. Their pressing game made their visitors uncomfortable on a raining night at San Mames, Los Leones covered plenty of ground around the park and their man marking approach was immaculate forcing Barca into making hazardous mistakes, one of  which led to Bilbao’s second goal.

His philosophy appears to be yielding positive outcome judging by the last game, however, a lot still has to be done. Players need to play in their original position where their potentials can be maximized – Javi Martinez who is a gifted central midfielder with the ability of a deep-lying playmaker is presently playing as a centre half whose primary job is to stop opposition attack therefore limiting the team’s capabilities.

Bielsa’s project requires time and I’m sure he will get it from the President and hopefully from the fans too.  Their dispaly against Los Cules is an epitome of El Loco’s Athletic vision. Les Leones fans’ optimism can be as high as the skies – for them, the return of Rafael Moreno Aranzadi aka Pichichi great days back in San Mames as he (Bielsa) intends to take them steps higher than eight and sixth position of the last two campaigns without any significant purchase and promoting more canteranos into the first team.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: