Basque Boys II – Part 4 | @NickRowe85

Hello señors and señoritas of the champ man world, it’s Friday and time for another trip to Bilbao. Last week the basque boys were beginning to gather some momentum after a less than ideal start to the season, and we continue the story with a visit from Racing Santander…

Racing are struggling in 15th, and have lost their star player, Hugo Porfirio to Real Betis. Etxebe has recovered from injury but is only 81% fit, so with one eye on the Dortmund game, he’s left out of an unchanged squad from last match. We lead early through Perez and have ten more efforts on goal but Racing’s veteran Italian keeper, Walter Zenga is on good form. I’m frustrated when Racing score with only their second attempt to make it 1-1 at half time, but that’s CM life.

I try Rios in the more advanced midfield position and bring off Urrutia for Garitano, which seems to work and we regain the lead through Loinaz. We then withstand some relentless pressure, mainly from Russian duo Bestchasnykh and Faizulin before man of the match Rios seals it with a last minute goal. Deportivo and Espanyol drew with each other, so we’re now joint 5th with them but ahead on goal difference.

To Germany now, where it’s time to face the yellow wall of Dortmund. For the hosts, Freund is injured and Möller suspended, but Kohler and Chapuisat return. Etxbe still isn’t 100% so he’s on the bench and Arregui starts for the cup-tied Histilloles. We’re 2-0 down at half time and the stats tell the story, with Dortmund having 4/4 shots on target and us only managing 2/9.

Etxebe and Urzaiz are on for Loinaz and Arregui but it’s makes little difference as we go further behind just past the hour. Urzaiz is injured late on and Ziganda replaces him and we do manage a late consolation goal but it’s another mauling in Europe. We slip to third in the group but only a point behind Dortmund, so we need to beat Bayern and probably get a result against Barca, who beat Bayern 3-2 in the other game.

The Mestalla is next to welcome us as we face Bobby Robson’s Valencia, who are 12th. They’ve lost key duo Camarasa and Ortega for £18m, and spent it on five new players. Valencia has fractured ribs, so Lafuente replaces him on the bench. I start Rios in the advanced midfield position, with Garitano in defensive midfield and Urrutia on the bench. Histilloles comes in for Arregui, and Etxebe for Loinaz.

It’s a quiet first half with one effort on target from either side, but Laslandes makes ours count and we lead at half time. The second half is much busier and Perez scores almost straight after the restart. Rios is loving his freedom and gets our third goal before Laslandes makes it four. Javi De Pedro nets a late consolation for the hosts, but it’s Rios’ day again as he puts in another man of the match performance.

Mendieta is now out for six weeks with broken ribs, so that’s two out with rib injuries and two with major broken bones.

It’s Copa Del Rey time now, as we welcome Atletico Madrid for the second leg of our third round match, for which we hold a 2-0 advantage from the first leg. Billabona and Urzaiz replace Mendieta and Arregui on the bench and I go with form up front and start Loinaz ahead of Etxebe, who has been far from the player he was last season, netting just once in 15 games.

We fly out of the traps as Laslandes gives us a quick-fire lead and we’re 3-0 up in 20 minutes and have a goal disallowed a minute later. Loinaz scores either side of a reply from Djalminha and it’s 5-1 at half time, I did NOT see this coming. Lardín pulls another one back for Atleti on 52, and Juninho puts away the resulting penalty following our keeper’s sending off. It’s a nervous last 20 minutes with our third-choice keeper in goal but he handles the occasion well and we win 7-3 on aggregate and will face Tenerife in the quarter finals.

Real Madrid and Barcelona both scraped through, with Barca losing 2-0 on the night to Deportivo but winning 3-2 overall, and Real beating Racing Santander on away goals despite losing the second leg 2-1.

The board are pleased with the win and say it’s a good result, I bet they’re glad they didn’t sack me now.

Still on a high, we welcome 12th-placed Mallorca, who’s most notable summer arrival was Albert Celades from Barcelona. and unsurprisingly we’re unchanged from the Atletico match. It’s a dull first half but we still manage 4/6 shots on target, with the visitors unable to manage a single attempt.

Histilloles gets us off the mark early in the second half and fellow French-Basque boy Laslandes doubles our lead half an hour later. Etxebe, on as a sub makes it three not long after. Mallorca pull one back through their own Basque boy Eskurza, but it’s too little too late and another three points in the bag for us. Rafa Benitez’s Extremadura continue to upset as they beat Betis, which helps us move up to fourth, and third-placed Atletico Madrid also lost, so we’re just a point behind them now.

No words can describe how happy I am to see this piece of news…

Time for our penultimate champions league group game game now and for some reason we’re wearing our away kit at home to Bayern Munich. Anyway, the visitors are almost at full-strength with suspended Giovane Elber the only absentee. For us, Alkorta is suspended, so Rios is captain, Tabuenka starts at centre back with Billabona on the right and Lakabeg on the bench. Histilloles is cup-tied once more so Etxebe starts on the left wing.

It’s a goalless first half despite two efforts on target from both sides. We’re lacking a cutting edge, so Loinaz is off for Arregui on 55, with Etxebe moving up front. Bayern proceed to have what feels like ten corners in a row before taking the lead with eleven minutes remaining. Urzaiz comes on for Perez but it stays 1-0 and our champions league dream is over.

I know we had a very tough group and a bit of bad luck with injuries and suspensions but I was expecting a bit more from the boys, especially after scoring twelve goals in our last three games. Our focus must now be on qualifying for next year’s competition, starting with a trip to 19th-placed Compostela.

Our hosts have brought in a few but no names of note, and have loaned Andrew Mainwaring to Reading. Alkorta is back in after sitting out the Bayern match, so Tabuenka shuffles back over to the right and Billabona takes his seat on the bench. Histilloles is back in on the left, so Etxebe moves up front and Loinaz is among the subs, as is Guerrero who is only 86% fit.

It’s a terrible first half, Compostela are all over us and eventually score on 36 minutes. Half time arrives and we could easily be three or four down if it wasn’t for our keeper, who already has a rating of 9. We failed to register a shot on target in the first half, so I make a couple of changes with Guerrero coming on for Garitano and Loinaz for Etxebe. The changes immediately pay off as Loinaz levels straight after the restart, but after a better second half, it finishes 1-1 and we drop a place to 5th.

Despite that result, the board are pleased with my performance as manager, which is welcome news after they almost sacked me not long ago.

We round off this instalment with a home tie with José Camacho’s 7th-placed Espanyol. The most notable of their five signings are César Martín and Portuguese internationals Pedro Barbosa and Augusto Leão. Our keeper Etxeberria is suspended, so Valencia starts, as does Guerrero for Garitano, and Loinaz for Etxebe, who has been disappointing so far.

I’ve been very impressed with my two wingers, Perez and Histilloles so far this season, especially considering that they started the season as second choices, and they both score either side of a Loinaz strike to give us a 3-0 half time lead. The visitors pull one back at the start of the second half, and then Loinaz scores twice to complete a hat trick just past the hour. It was nice to see Guerrero back today, and he definitely made a difference to our side.

The board tell me that’s a good result, but it’s not enough to move us up the table and we stay 5th after 15 games.

So that’s your lot for this week, join me next time for our final champions league group match and our Copa Del Rey quarter-final against Tenerife. Adios!

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