La Liga: Basque derby highlights Bielsa’s lack of ideas
Athletic Bilbao’s troubles continue with a 2-0 defeat to Real Sociedad. Barcelona makes it six wins out of six and Real Madrid prepares for the clásico with a five-goal fiesta.
By Halima Ali
Heading into Saturday night’s Basque derby, Real Sociedad had failed to secure a victory over their regional neighbours for two and half years, with Athletic Bilbao having won both games last season. Not so long ago, Los Leones would have been clear favourites for the match having reached both the Copa del Rey and the UEFA Europa League final last year.
This season, however, has seen Marcelo Bielsa’s men get off to a poor start, winning just one of their opening five Liga matches and it was to get no better at the Anoeta this weekend.
Real Sociedad’s Antoine Griezmann had two dangerous efforts well saved by Gorka Iraizoz in the first-half but he finally broke the deadlock when his shot took a slight deflection past the goalkeeper on 62 minutes.
Any hopes of a comeback by the visitors was well and truly crushed just 10 minutes later when Fernando Amorebieta received a second yellow card for handling Xabi Prieto’s shot inside the area, leaving it to Carlos Vela to comfortably convert the penalty, securing a 2-0 victory and continuing Real Sociedad’s 100 percent record at home so far this season.
Bilbao looked a shadow of the team that dispatched of Manchester United last season with a fearless performance at Old Trafford and a commanding win at the San Mamés that saw them knock the English giants out of the Europa League 5-3 on aggregate.
Though they had been impressive all year, it was that performance which made all of Europe sit up and take notice. But the season was not to end on such a high note with the team capitulating in the late stages, being beaten soundly 3-0 by Atlético Madrid in the Europa League final and by the same margin against Barcelona in the Copa del Rey final. Bilbao eventually finished 10th in the league, just two points above Real Sociedad, and missing out on a European place.
It was to prove a prelude to a summer of discontent. Rumours circulated about the future of Javi Martínez, with interest from several big clubs. Eventually, Bayern Munich paid his €40 million buyout clause and he moved to Germany.
Fernando Llorente, the star striker who has proved so instrumental in his side’s successes in recent seasons, also wanted out.
Transfer speculation was rife with the strongest interest shown by Italian giants Juventus, but while a move never materialised, El Rey León has refused to sign a new deal and with his contract running out at the end of the season, he looks set to leave in the summer if not in the winter transfer window.
Just as worrying are the manager’s antics. Bielsa, the architect of Bilbao’s success last season and described as a genius by players, managers and journalists alike (Pep Guardiola hailed him the best manager on the planet) seems to have run out of ideas.
Despite committing himself to the club, Bielsa’s frustrations were already evident before the season had begun when he insulted and assaulted the site manager of the works being carried out at the club’s training ground. But, to turn the season around, “El Loco” may just have to instil a similar fighting spirit into his players.
Meanwhile, Barcelona were in danger of dropping their first points of the season when Sevilla went 2-0 up at their Sánchez Pizjuan through goals by Piotr Trochowski and Álvaro Negredo.
The comeback began with a Cesc Fábregas left-footed drive in the second half and he struck again in the 89th minute to level the score. With the hosts already down to 10 men, David Villa, who recently returned to action following a broken leg, sent a left-footed shot past Andrés Palop deep into added time to seal victory.
The Catalans now have 18 points from six matches and are eight points ahead of reigning champions Real Madrid who travel to the Camp Nou next week. Madrid warmed up for the clásico with a thumping 5-1 win at home against Deportivo La Coruña.
Granada 2 – 1 Celta Vigo
Valladolid 6 – 1 Rayo Vallecano
Osasuna 4 – 0 Levante
Real Madrid 5 – 1 Deportivo
Espanyol 0 – 1 Atlético Madrid
Valencia 2 – 0 Zaragoza
Málaga 4 – 0 Betis
Real Sociedad 2- 0 Athletic Bilbao
Sevilla 2 – 3 Barcelona
Getafe vs Mallorca to be played on Monday.
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