Remember last season, when Athletic Bilbao were rampaging through the top 4 teams and putting away the lower table teams with ease? And then a few dreadful decisions have allowed the Europa league finalists to have slip into a potential relegation scrap?
Last season Javi Martinez and Fernando Llorente were the basis of the team: attack and defense, a bedrock for success. But, the departure of Martinez and the refusal to resign for Bilbao from Llorente, have led to real slip ups in terms of Liga form.
Whilst Bilbao have been on the slide, just west along the north coast in San Sebastian, the fans at the Anoeta have seen an instrumental rise to power from Real Sociedad, who were playing in the lower league just a few years ago.
So, how has this happened?
The more optimistic fans could say it is purely down to the departure of their two key talismen, but what have they done with the money received from sold players?
Are they really at fault for their downfall? The arrogance of Marcelo Bielsa in the Bilbao dug out has been astronomical to say the least. Having been told Llorente would not be re-signing, he then had two options, sell the spanish forward and use the funds to bring in some new players, much like Arsene Wenger did with Robin Van Persie earlier this season, or use Llorente to the full this season and hope that his excellence on the pitch would lead to a place in Europe and the prize money that came with it.
He opted for neither and instead decided to put Llorente on the bench, for every match, without the intention of playing him at all. So here is the stubborn nature of the Bilbao coach and it is to be expected, as football coaches and players in the Basque country are renowned for their fiery temperaments. He has in fact started playing Llorente, but it could be a case of too little too late.
But his attitude is not the only reason for Bilbao’s fall from grace. The ‘home grown policy’ of Sociedad means 9 of their 11 players who are regulars are actually born and brought up in the basque country, so they do not need to splash the cash to fund a great team.
The other two, Carlos Vela, who arrived for about £2m from Arsenal has been in superb form, putting away 13 goals already this season in La Liga, and the other, Antoine Griezmann, who at just 21 has a very bright future ahead with his pure talent, and knack for finishing.
It used to be Bilbao who were the club to watch out for in La Liga, now it is certainly Sociedad and they are becoming very, very noisy neighbours.
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