Basque Boys II – Part 6 | @CMClassicSquads

Nick’s back in Basque for another Friday visit. His job seems a lot more secure now but can he get Bilbao back up to threaten the top two?

Hello once again and welcome to part 6. At the end of part 5, we reached the semi- finals of the Copa Del Rey, where we’ll face Barcelona, and we picked up a much-needed league win against Celta after back to back defeats. So let’s continue with an away tie with Extremadura.

Rafa’s men beat us 1-0 to inflict our first defeat of the season in only our second game of the season, so we’ve definitely got a score to settle today, but this won’t be an easy match as they’re doing well in 8th place and have beaten Betis and Deportivo recently. Our only change is new boy Galdames on the bench in place of Garitano.

It’s not very often I’ve seen Tabuenka with a vicious strike, but he puts us ahead with one on 11 minutes. We’ve a goal disallowed 6 minutes later, but Etxebe makes up for it and ensures that we rightly lead 2-0 at half time having been by far the better side. He continues the scoring at the start of the second half and Perez follows to make it 4-0. The hour passes and Etxebe scores again to get his first hat trick of the season. Despite relentless pressure, we don’t score again until right at the end with a French double from Histilloles and Laslandes to top a 7-0 victory. I did not see that coming. Despite Etxebe’s hat trick, Histilloles is man of the match with 10/10, and there are plenty of 9’s and 8’a sprinkled throughout the team, including an 8 for new boy Gadalmes, who came on for Larrainzar for the last 15 minutes.

So that was revenge and then some, and the board say it’s a very good result. The win briefly puts us 4th, but Atletico win the following day to send us back to 5th.

Some midweek action as Juventus beat Chelsea 2-1 on aggregate to lift the european super cup, and Real Madrid’s lead over Barcelona at the top of the league is cut to just a point after they’ve suffered back to back losses.

Transfer deadline day is fast approaching, and Villarreal make a loan offer for Bastida, which I gladly accept, and when checking my shortlist, I notice that Lizarazu is unhappy at being left out of the side at Bayern, so I make an unconfident £3.2m bid, but to my amazement and delight, he signs!

Lizarazu’s arrival is a timely one, as Larrazabal is suspended for the next two matches, the first one of which is at home to Real Madrid, who I’ve just had to reject yet another approach for Larrainzar from.

Just as one joins, another one departs but only on loan as Bastida joins Villarreal, where hopefully he’ll get some game time to get his career and development off and running.

Time for the first of three big games in a row now as we welcome table-topping Real Madrid, who are only Christian Karembeu short of a full-strength side. Lizarazu is straight in for Larrazabal at left back but that’s our only change. We keep time out for most of the first half but go in 1-0 down at half time through a Panucci strike.

Rios comes off injured on 59, so Galdames comes on to make his debut, but he’s unable to help the defence keep out Real’s second goal from Roberto Carlos just 7 minutes later. Our strikers have been abysmal, so Loinaz is on for Laslandes, and we do claw a goal back with 5 minutes remaining but are unable to get a late equaliser and are lucky to stay 5th in the table after Betis and Atletico both draw.

It seems I can never have just one piece of bad news, as the extent of Rios’ injury is revealed and he’s ruled out for 3 months with a torn groin muscle.

But having said that, the board are somehow delighted with my performance, I can’t quite work that lot out sometimes.

Anyway, it’s Deportivo next, who are not far below us in 7th place. We had a good 4-1 win against them last time, and they’re missing Fran, who has left for Real Madrid, and star striker Guilherme, who is injured. Our only change is an enforced one as Garitano replaces Rios in defensive midfield. Stian Neset puts the hosts in front just 2 minutes in, our we’re quickly back in it as Perez nets 4 minutes later. It’s a pretty even first half and we go in all square at the whistle.

Usually early goals set the tone for the match, but this is not the case today as the second half sees little action. Loinaz come on for Laslandes on the hour, and Deportivo lose future spurs man Nourredine Naybet through injury late on, but it ends one a piece, which is probably a fair result.

I’m more than used to seeing the little red “Inj” tiles next to my players now, so when Etxebe is ruled out for a couple of weeks with a chest injury and Billabona with a sprained ankle, I can’t help but chuckle.

Next to visit are Barcelona, who have leapfrogged Real Madrid into top spot. We’ve never got so match as a point from them in my whole time in charge of Bilbao, but there’s always a first time. The visitors are only missing Sonny Anderson, and for us, Loinaz is in for Etxebe and Larrazabal is on the bench after returning from injury.

I always go into these matches against the big sides full of optimism, which is usually crushed within a few minutes and we normally find ourselves 3 or 4 down before half time, but despite going 2 down inside the first quarter of an hour, we hold our own up until half time.

We manage to keep the visitors out for the entire second half, but offer little going forward with just a single effort on goal. We stay 5th, but are kind of in no-man’s land as we find ourselves 5 points ahead of Espanyol in 6th, but 7 points adrift from the top four. The only positive is that Real Madrid and Barca are out of the way now, so hopefully we can string some wins together.

It’s bogey team Oviedo next, who are in 8th place and held us to a 2-2 draw earlier this season. They are at full strength and there are no changes for us. It’s one-way traffic from the hosts early on and were two down at half time through a Roberto Losada brace.

Garitano is struggling, so on comes Mendieta, and although Loinaz gives us some hope just before the hour, it’s another defeat, and Espanyol are just 2 points behind us and we’re now 10 points off fourth place.

I was hoping that the 7-0 win over Extremadura would be the start of a good run of form, but it seems to have had the opposite effect as we’ve picked up just one point in the four games since, so rock bottom Rayo Vallecano may be the perfect tonic.

We lead 3-0 at half time through goals from Perez either side of a Guerrero strike. The only blot being an injury to Lizarazu, who is replaced by Larrazabal. The second half sees two more goals, with Guerrero getting his second, and Larrainzar heading in late on.

Espanyol are gathering momentum just behind us, and although they’re just 2 points behind us, they did do us a favour by beating fourth-placed Betis, so we’re only 7 behind them now.

I can honestly say that in all my years of playing this game, I’ve never had a save with so many injuries…

Etxebe returns but Valencia takes his place in the treatment room with a broken hand.

I can only assume that the board are pleased with our cup run, as they once again say they’re delighted with my performance, despite a win, a draw and three defeats in our last five matches. I’m not complaining one bit though, as they were contemplating giving me the boot just a month ago.

It’s Hercules away next, who frustrated us last time and held us to a goalless draw, so hopefully we can put in a Herculean effort and beat them this time around. Lafuente is on the bench in place of Valencia, Larrazabal is in for Lizarazu and Billabona is on the bench. Etxebe is not fully fit so sits out.

Hercules are ahead through their very own Basque boy, Bolo on 12 minutes, and despite us turning the score around with two quick fire goals just before half an hour through Laslandes and Alkorta, we throw the lead away just before half time.

As the minutes tick by in the second half, I’m getting more and more anxious and am beginning to think that it’s more points dropped, but to my relief, Loinaz pops up with the winner on 71. This is a much-needed win but boy did our opponents make us work for it. After a few results go our way, we’re now just 5 points off the top four, which the board are satisfied with.

Seville is our next destination, and they’re not doing too badly after their promotion and sitting in 9th place. We comfortably beat them 2-0 at home, but I think we might be in for a trickier game this time. Etxebe is fit but only on the bench for Billabona.

Garitano suffers an early injury, so on comes Mendieta, and despite lots of pressure from us and 5/8 shots on target, we can’t find a way through and it’s goalless at half time.

You have to make your chances count in this game, and Sevilla start the second half much better and make us pay for our wastefulness just before the hour as Pepelu heads in from a corner. I immediately bring on Etxebe for Laslandes in the hope of an immediate response, but we gift Sevilla their second goal through a dreadful back pass. Guerrero gets a consolation goal near the end, but it’s an incredibly frustrating loss after starting the match so well.

The board say it’s a poor result, and we’re back to 7 points behind the top 4. Our blushes were somewhat spared by Espanyol, who lost to stay 2 points behind us, but we can’t be relying on other teams’ results all the time.

So I think I consistency was definitely the theme of this episode, and here’s confirmation of the standings with 10 games remaining.

We’re the top scorers in the league, which I can’t fault, with Laslandes getting 19 goals, Loinaz 14, Perez 11, Etxebe 9 and Histilloles 8, and we’ve even scored more than Barcelona and Real Madrid, but we’ve conceded more than any other side in the top 7, which is a concern, but the 2-3-1-2-2 formation is a double-edged sword.

We’re at home to Tenerife next, and then have the first leg of our Copa Del Rey semi-final with Barcelona, followed by a reasonable run of fixtures to end the season, so hopefully we can mount a late charge for european football.

Join us next week for more, sun, sea, sand, sangria and soccer!

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