Welcome back to the beautiful port city of Bilbao for part 3. We had a mixed bag of results to start the season, with 2 wins, 2 draws and 2 defeats from our first 6 matches. We’re 14th in the league table and won the first leg of our 1st UEFA Cup tie against Metz.
The transfer deadline is a week away, and the approaches start coming in, some more welcome than others. The money is tempting but I’d have nothing to spend it on, plus I need to keep the core of my team together. Nagore joins Numancia and Lacruz is injured for a month.
Up next is a trip to the Bernabeu to play the mighty Real Madrid. We’ve already travelled to Barcelona, where we lost 3-0, but the optimist in me says it’s good to get both away trips to the big 2 out of the way early.
We’re missing Guerrero as Spain have a World Cup qualifying match, but Real are missing Contreras, Abelardo, Hierro, Raul and Morientes, so that could be good. I revert back to the trusted 2-3-1-2-2 formation for this match.
We start brightly and seemingly equalise straight after Suker opens the scoring, only for it to be chalked off (I wish I knew what these referees keep spotting). I can’t knock the performance, but unfortunately it’s another disappointing defeat.
Deadline day arrives, and it’s 1 in and 1 out as Lasa joins Albacete and Luis Perez (who’s stats look reasonable) comes in from Sociedad for £1.6m. I was approached by Sky Sports as I was leaving the training ground for a Harry Redknapp-style car window interview, but I said there would be no more business. In other transfer news, Bisgaard, Alfonso and Bakayoko all get their obligatory big-money moves.
Next is a bottom-of-the-table clash with Deportivo, who sit a place below us in 18th. They’ve brought in future French World Cup hero, Stephane Guivarc’h, and also Cassio Alves Guilherme, who’s Spanish on the game but played for Brazil in real-life. I’m surprised at their league position with players like Naybet, Conceiçao, Mauro Silva, Fran and Djalminha, but I still expect a difficult match.
We quickly go 2-0 up with Loinaz netting again, but the visitors pull one back just before half an hour and level just after an hour. We quickly regain the lead, and score again 12 minutes from time. Manjarin scores to ensure a tense last 10 minutes, but we hold on for the win.
The board are understandably very disappointed with our league position, but are satisfied with my performance as manger, so I can breathe a sigh of relief for now.
Time for the 2nd leg of our UEFA Cup tie with Metz. Loinaz and Perez are cup-tied but Alkorta and Urzaiz are back. There’s little to report, a goalless draw and clean sheet suit us fine, and into the next round we go, where we draw Deportivo, with the away leg first. We’re awarded £250k, which won’t come in handy.
I am literally astounded to see this next bit of news. We’ve had 2 wins, 2 losses and a draw, which somehow earns me manager of the month, I’ll take it though.
The Copa Del Rey 3rd round draw pits us against Real Sociedad, who I’m still mad at for not selling me De Pedro and Idiakez, so that makes me want to beat them even more. Once again, we get the away leg first.
Misfiring Huegun is ruled out for a month with a hip injury, which would be a loss if he could hit a barn door.
Zaragoza are next, and have bolstered their ranks with Valerien Ismael and Mickael Silvestre. They have some Argentinian attacking power in Kily Gonzalez and Gustavo Lopez, and also have Dutch winger, Nordin Wooter, who Watford fans will remember. They sit 19th in the table, so it’s another must-win game for us.
Zaragoza are immediately down to 10 men after a foul in the box by Garitano. Guerrero dispatches the penalty and we’re on our way. We go in 4-0 up at half time, which should have been 5-0, but we had yet another goal disallowed. It’s an uneventful 2nd half, Luis Perez comes on for his debut and we concede the token late goal.
After a spluttery start to the season, an emphatic win was just what the doctor ordered, and we’re up to 9th. Further good news follows as Roberto Rios returns from injury, life is good.
Next to visit are Compostela, which I think is Spanish for compost, but I’m still learning the lingo, so I could be wrong. Anyway, they’ve signed Andrew Mainwaring, but he doesn’t even make the bench, clearly they don’t know what they have.
Again we start brightly as Guerrero puts us ahead on 6 minutes, and Loinaz doubles our lead on 39, but we should be out of sight, having wasted loads of chances. Our opponents pull a goal back through Nigerian Christopher Ohen, but Loinaz restores our 2-goal cushion soon after. Ohen gets another late on, but it’s too little too late and another 3 points for us.
The win puts us 5th, and the pace-setters are finally in sight. We’re 3rd top scorers behind Barca and Racing Santander, but have one of the worst defences, which is concerning. To make matters worse, Larrainzar is ruled out for a couple of weeks with a chest injury.
Hector Cuper’s Mallorca are up next, and little does he know that he’ll one day guide Valencia to two consecutive champions league finals, although unfortunately they will win neither. He’s assembled a reasonable side, including Valeron, Ivan Campo, Jovan Stankovic and future Newcastle legend, Elena Marcelino.
It’s another emphatic win, and one that the board say is a good result. Despite our terrible defensive record, the win takes us up to the dizzy heights of 3rd.
It’s Deportivo again next, but this time in Europe. Loinaz is replaced by Ziganda. Larrazabal is out for a week with a bruised head (I’m sure they must be using bricks for heading practice in training). Billabona switches to left-back and Lakabeg comes in on the right.
Ziganda gets us off to a dream start but Maikel equalises just before the break. The hosts are reduced to 10 men on 52 minutes as they lose the aptly-named Deus, after a Deuce of yellow cards. Guerrero produces a moment of magic as he blasts in a free kick to win us another match, what a guy.
The Valencia board have had enough of languishing at the bottom of the table, and sack Ranieri. We play them next month so hopefully they don’t get the customary new manager resurgence.
Copa del Rey action now, and we face our first Basque opposition of the season in Real Sociedad. They’ve signed Bisgaard and Ezquerro, but oddly neither are in the squad. The side also includes future Watford manager, Javi (or “Xabier”) Gracia.
After our good recent form, it’s annoying to lose. Alkorta gets sent off and Etxeberria saves the resulting penalty to deny Kovacevic a potential hat trick. Other than that, there’s little to write home about. With no away goals, it’ll be a tough 2nd leg.
Back to the league and it’s Betis, who have lost their deadly front duo of Alfonso and Oli to Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively. They do however, still have Finidi George (or is it George Finidi?) and Sánchez Fernando, and they’ve signed Dion Dublin, who’ll be a handful.
Betis lead after 10 minutes through Bjelica. We hit back twice, but only lead for a minute as Cañas levels 4 minutes before the interval. The only other goal comes from that man Etxebe again on 64 minutes, but we have a goal disallowed each side of it, which makes 5 for the season now, and whenever the commentary says “(goalkeeper name) had no chance” or “there was nothing “(goalkeeper name) could do” I start to panic, it’s like waiting for a VAR decision 20 years early.
It seems I jinxed Harry Redknapp when I mentioned him earlier, as he is sacked by West Ham and replaced by big Ron Atkinson. Harry is probably cursing me while he’s sat at home tucking into one of Sandra’s jam roly-polys, sorry Hazza. Bobby Robson returns to Spain, taking over at Valencia. The board are now very happy with my performance, which is nice to hear.
Lowly Salamanca are next, their only notable players being Portuguese striker, Pauleta, and Brazilian midfielder, Everton Giovanella, which I’m sure was a brand of ice cream in the 90’s. It’s a routine win and a 2nd hat trick of the season for Etxebe, he is on fire.
So that’s it for another week I’m afraid. It’s nice to end this instalment in a far better place than where we started it, 3rd in the league and with 1 foot in the next round of the UEFA Cup. Join me next week to see if we can make that both feet!