Athletic Bilbao finished last season strongly as they cemented a 6th place finish meaning they would qualify for the Europa League. And what a start to the competition they’ve had.
Marcelo Bielsa’s men sit top of Group F on ten points as mega rich PSG have to settle with a place behind them for now as they are just a win off overtaking Bilbao. When put in a group with Paris Saint-Germain, Red Bull Salzburg and Slovan Bratislava you would think Athletic would struggle somehwhat but after four matches played they sit comfortably at the top of the table and have produced some magnificant results of late.
Standings in Group B:
|Red Bull Salzburg||4||1||1||2||6||6||0||4|
Results so far in Group B:
|Slovan Bratislava||1 – 2||Athletic Bilbao|
|Athletic Bilbao||2 – 0||Paris Saint-Germain|
|Athletic Bilbao||2 – 2||Red Bull Salzburg|
|Red Bull Salzburg||0 – 1||Athletic Bilbao|
As you can see, Bilbao started off their first match away to Slovan Bratislava and managed to secure a victory in a tricky away tie courtsey of goals from Susaeta and Muniain.
A home match against Paris Saint-Germain followed and against the odds Bielsa’s side took the three points to secure back-to-back wins in the competition. Two first half goals meant Bilbao had already got six points on the table and made French Ligue 1 title contenders PSG look like an very ordinary side indeed.
Another home match, this time against Austrian champions Salzburg and Bilbao could only manage a draw but this kept up their unbeaten record.
In the return fixture, Athletic’s Herrera netted ten minutes before the break which meant the La Liga side went home the happier with a 1-0 win in the bag.
But there is one player that stands out in this talented and youthful Athletic Bilbao side; that is Spanish striker Fernando Llorente who got a total of 19 goals last term, 23 goals the term before that and has been linked with moves to Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund in the past few months.
Coach Bielsa said this about Llorente: “He’s a fantastic player, a great athlete and he is the leader of our attack”. Kinds words eh? It’s not just Llorente, though, who makes the team what it is. Athletic have always stood for an attacking side and players such as Muniain, an 18-year-old wonderkid who has three goals to his name already, has made an instant impact on the side in terms of attacking threat and he, like Llorente, has been linked with big moves away from the San Mames.
It’s not just in the Europa League where Bilbao are flourishing, too. Domestically they are doing well as they sit in 9th spot on fourteen points infront of teams such as Athletico Madrid and Villarreal, who have both suffered torrid starts to the season. Recently, Bilbao drew at the San Mames to Barcelona and could’ve win if Lionel Messi would not have scored in 90+3 minutes. It just shows how rapidly they are improving.
Bilbao should be able to carry on their good form in the Europa League and push on to the knock our stages. And who knows, if they have a good season domestically, like they are at the moment, they could well be in the UEFA Champions League before we know it.