Athletic Bilbao finished last season on the uprise. They made it to two finals: the Europa League against Atlético Madrid and the Copa del Rey against Barcelona! On the road to this point, they finished at the top of their group in the Europa League, defeated Manchester United in Old Trafford, and steadily stole the hearts of everyone who watched them play with their incredible work rate. Bilbao was becoming everyone in Spain’s “second favorite” team and also a favorite of many English supporters. They’re not my favorite team but I loved watching them play because it just felt like I was watching something special.
If you look at them today, just one quick glimpse will tell you something’s gone wrong at the Basque club. They are 1 point off the relegation zone in La Liga and ranked 16th. In the Europa League, they’ve only managed to get a single point after three matches in group play. I’ve noticed the slow slide all season, but I was never sure why it was happening. Until yesterday when this article came out. As it turns out the summer transfer window drama may have affected the club more than anticipated.
First, Javi Martínez left Athletic and signed for Bayern Munich without the Basque club’s permission. Then, star striker Fernando Llorente decided he did not want to extend his contract and started looking for a transfer to Italian powerhouse Juventus. That didn’t work out and now Llorente will leave Bilbao at the end of the season on a free transfer. This is still a sticky issue as manager Marcelo Bielsa seems reluctant to play Llorente consistently.
Athletic Bilbao seems on the verge of self-destructing and it breaks my heart to watch. They went from an exciting, inspiring team to a dysfunctional mess in such a short time. If you compare the stats from this season and last season, things don’t really look that bad on the surface: 8 points from 9 matches in league play versus 9 points at the same time last year. The worrying fact is that there doesn’t seem to be any light at the end of the tunnel right now. Plagued with injuries, mistrust, and fatigue, it may take a bit of a miracle to revive one of the hardest working and most heart-lifting teams from last season.
Around the league, Falcao has now scored in 11 consecutive games. Wow! Now the question is how long he’ll last at Atlético Madrid before a larger club snaps him up. Both Barcelona and Real Madrid won 5-0 away from home. (I saw a rumor that, after Barça smashed Rayo Vallecano, Tito Vilanova said Real Madrid should learn to travel away and win 5-0…which they did the following day in Mallorca. I kind of hope that’s true because it would be hysterical.) Real Zaragoza won a 2-1 stunner against Sevilla on Sunday. Zaragoza, almost relegated at the end of last season, now sits in 9th place. Good for them! Here are the rest of the results from the weekend:
Espanyol 0-0 Málaga
Real Betis 1-0 Valencia
Celta Vigo 1-1 Deportivo La Coruña
Rayo Vallecano 0-5 Barcelona
Real Zaragoza 2-1 Sevilla
Levante 3-1 Granada
Athletic Bilbao 1-2 Getafe
Atlético Madrid 3-1 Osasuna
Mallorca 0-5 Real Madrid
Valladolid 2-2 Real Sociedad
Of the UEFA midweek fixtures, Real Madrid was the only Spanish team in the Champions League to not win. It was heartbreaking, but they were outplayed sadly. Barça just managed to squeeze a win past Celtic in the dying minutes of the game and Málaga continued their unbeaten streak in spectacular fashion. Here are the full results:
BATE Borisov 0-3 Valencia
Barcelona 2-1 Celtic
Málaga 1-0 AC Milan
Borussia Dortmund 2-1 Real Madrid
Atlético Madrid 2-1 Académica de Coimbra
Lyon 2-1 Athletic Bilbao
Levante 3-0 Twente Enschede