Nick’s got a brand new Twitter name but he’s still the same old Basque boy at heart. What are they up to this week?
Greetings fellow championship managers, and welcome to part 5. Despite finding some form in the league and cup, the Basque Boys’ European form has been woeful to say the least, and we start this episode with our final group match against Barcelona…
We can’t qualify, but it would be nice to get some sort of result from Louis Van Gaal and his men, so I’ve fielded as strong a side as possible. We welcome back Etxeberria in goal after injury, Urzaiz is in for cup-tied Histilloles, and Etxebe comes in up front for the injured Loinaz.
Despite Zizou giving Barca the lead inside 10 minutes, we play some good stuff and are unlucky not to go in level at half time. Ariel Ortega makes it two on 66 and future Charlton legend Jorge Costa adds a third 5 minutes later. Rios gets injured on 74 and is replaced by Garitano, who then gets himself sent off in the last minute, an awful end to an equally awful champions league debut campaign.
Rios will be our for a few days with concussion and will miss our next league match, a trip to Sporting Gijon. Sporting’s most notable summer signings were Ruben Baraja from Atletico Madrid B and Basque boy Julio Salinas, who’s regen I will be definitely looking out for when he retires. Garitano replaces Rios, and Histilloles returns in place of Urzaiz.
We lead early through Histilloles’ 5th goal of the season, and Etxebe gets his first goal in five matches 20 minutes later. Every time we go forward we look like scoring and after 6/8 shots on target, we’re unlucky to only lead 2-0 at half time.
Gijon start the second half well and pull a goal back on the hour, but Laslandes, who like Etxebe has endured a five-game goal drought, restores our two-goal cushion less than 10 minutes later. Larrainzar is injured and replaced by Billabona, who caps the win with his first Basque boys goal 4 minutes from time. The win takes us back to 4th after Betis drew with Barcelona.
I’m told by the medical team that Larrainzar has a calf strain and will be out for a month, so my plan is to play Tabuenka in the centre, but then I’m greeted with this piece of news…
So that’s half my back line injured for a visit from Atletico Madrid, not the best news. Anyway, Atleti are a point above us, so beating them would see us leapfrog them into third place. Vieri is back from injury and with no other injuries or suspensions, they have a fully fit squad. Rios is back and replaces Larrainzar at centre back, with Billabona coming in for Tabuenka on the right. Loinaz is fit enough for the bench.
We take an early lead through an unlikely source, as Alkorta gets a captain’s goal. We’re pinging the ball around nicely and Guerrero doubles our lead on 16 minutes, god I’ve missed him. Etxebe scores for the second game running to give us a 3-0 lead at the end of a rampant first half in which we had 8/12 shots on target, with the visitors failing to register a goal-bound effort.
I’m expecting more of the same in the second half but it’s surprisingly quiet and despite some chances either way, there are no more goals. Loinaz gets a few minutes as he replaces Laslandes on 82. We seem to like playing Atleti, that’s ten goals against them in the last three meetings, and all with Landreau in goal! The board say good result and are very pleased with third position. We’re 8 points behind Barca and Real, who are now level thanks to Barca’s recent dip in form, which has seen a win, a loss and two draws.
The Cope Del Rey may be our best chance at some silverware this season, and after a fantastic 7-3 aggregate third round win over Atletico Madrid, we now face Tenerife in the quarter finals. The draw hasn’t worked out too badly, with Barcelona and Real Madrid playing each other, so if we win and avoid the winner of that match in the semis, we’ve a good chance of reaching the final at least. The other two ties are Compostela vs Sporting Gijon, and Zaragoza vs Espanyol. Our only change from the win over Atletico Madrid at the weekend is Tabuenka returning at right back in place of Billabona.
We’re 2-0 up inside 20 minutes thanks to a French double with Histilloles and Laslandes getting on the scoresheet. The visitors’ cause is not helped by the loss of Middlesbrough legend, Emerson just after half an hour and then things go from bad to worse for them as they score an own goal to give us a healthy 3-0 half time lead. There are no changes for the second half and Perez makes it 4-0 shortly after the hour mark. Loinaz gets a run out for the last quarter of an hour as he comes on for Etxebe, but it’s an emphatic win, and we didn’t concede an away goal, that’ll do nicely.
Back to the league now, and our first all-Basque clash of the season as we travel to Real Sociedad. They’ve finally realised what they have in Morten Bisgaard, who starts in midfield after struggling to break into the side last season. We’re unchanged from the cup win.
It’s goalless at the break, but there has been too much pressure from the hosts for my liking, with 5/6 shots on target, and we’ve not had a single effort. I shuffle things at the back and move Rios to defensive midfield, with Tabuenka coming into the centre and Mendieta coming on at right back for Garitano. The changes help, but Sociedad continue to press and get their reward on 71 through who else but the aforementioned Bisgaard. Loinaz is on for Etxebe again late on but we’re condemned to our fourth league defeat of the season.
Larrainzar returns from injury, but just as one centre back returns, another one is injured as Txutxi is ruled out for three months with a torn hamstring, which prompts me to make a £1.5m move for this guy, who looks pretty handy, and he can play at right back too, which is a bonus. I face competition from Porto, Benfica, Lens and Guingamp though, so hopefully the basque boy in him chooses us.
Straight on to the next match now, and it’s a home match against Betis, who have won drawn and lost the same amount of games as us, but we’re above them on goal difference. Despite losing their deadly strike duo of Alfonso and Oli last season, they still possess Fernando and Finidi and have strengthened by bringing in Hugo Porfirio, Jose Camarasa and Kennet Andersson. Etxebe is out for a week with bruised ribs, so Loinaz starts and Larrainzar still isn’t match-fit so Rios continues at centre back.
It’s a reasonably quiet first half and we look to be the better side with 5/8 shots on target, but Betis catch us by surprise against the run of play to lead 1-0 at half time. The second half is nothing to write home about and despite another 3 shots on target, we can’t get the equaliser and it’s a second defeat on the bounce, which leaves us fifth at the half way point, but Atletico Madrid lost to lowly Tenerife to keep things open at the top.
Speaking of Tenerife, that’s our next destination for the second leg of our Copa Del Rey quarter final, where we hold a 4-0 advantage from the first leg. Middlesbrough legend, Emerson is still suffering from the injury he picked up in that match, and for us, Etxebe is fit again and back in for Loinaz and Larrainzar makes the bench.
Rios heads us ahead from a corner inside 20 minutes, and his fellow centre back, Alkorta doubles our lead just past half an hour. It’s not very often our defence poses more of an attacking threat than our midfield and strikers, but this has definitely been the case in the first half as we lead 2-0. The hosts hit back twice to level the match before Mendieta, Urzaiz and Loinaz all come on for Tabuenka, Perez and Etxebe on 78 but there’s no further action and we go through 6-2 on aggregate.
Sporting Gijon and Espanyol also got through, and with the draw seemingly kind to us thus far, I saw this competition as our main chance at some silverware this season, but no…
So now we begin the second half of the season and it’s time to get things back on track after two losses and a draw in our last three games. We start by welcoming 17th-placed Celta Vigo, who we beat 1-0 in our opening match. It looks like Bakayoko has finally managed to break into their team and he starts up front. We welcome back Larrainzar at centre back, with Rios going back into his anchor role and Garitano dropping to the bench.
Laslandes puts us ahead, but our hard work is undone just five minutes later as an unmarked Salgado heads in from a corner to level the scores. Thankfully Laslandes has his scoring boots on today though, and he restores our lead 5 minutes before half time. Perez is injured a minute later, so on comes Loinaz and I shuffle things around up top. As the clock ticks on in the second half I’m anxious of an equaliser, but thankfully it never arrives and Histilloles seals the win 9 minutes from time.
We remain 5th after Atletico and Betis both win, and after a recent run of poor form including three draws and a defeat, Barcelona have been dethroned by a resurgent Real Madrid. In other news, Perez is ruled out for a week with a gashed leg.
Some good news follows the bad, with the signing of Galdames from Toulouse for £1.5m. At 28, age isn’t on his side, but his stats are great and he’ll provide central and right-sided defensive cover.
So that’s it for another week, join us next week as we continue our quest for champions league football once more and find out if we can somehow manage to topple the mighty Barcelona and give ourselves a shot at a trophy. Until next time!