Bienvenido a Bilbao! and thank you for joining me for the final part of season two with the Basque Boys.
Last week we managed to make it past the mighty Barcelona into the Copa Del Rey final, where we’ll face Espanyol. But before that, we’ve got our four remaining league matches to play. We’re currently 6th in the table, and a point off 5th with games in hand on the three sides above us.
With the title still not decided, Real Madrid miss the chance to cut Barcelona’s lead to just 2 points by drawing at home with lowly Hercules.
Our next three games are against Racing Santander, Real Sociedad and Compostela, so the target is three wins and then we’ll see where we’re at going into the Betis game. If we can finish third and win the Copa Del Rey I’ll be a very happy man.
To the action then, and Santander are 19th, and will be trying to escape the relegation zone, which means they’ll be full of fight and won’t give us an easy game. Their Russian duo of Bestchastnykh and Faizulin caused us problems in the 1-1 draw earlier in the season, but the latter is not even in their squad today, so that’s good news. We’re unchanged from the win over Atletico last week.
It’s a bit of a disastrous first half, with yet another injury after just 11 minutes, with Urzaiz going off and Arregui coming on. Skipper Alkorta sees red just before the break too, which is far from ideal but we make it to half time without conceding. Racing start the second half well, and are taking advantage of their extra man, so I move Rios back to centre back and switch to a 4-3-2 formation, and we score immediately, how’s that for a tactical master stroke? It ends 1-0, which I’ll take all day long with ten men, and we go 5th after Deportivo lost to Espanyol.
There seems to be a theme with injured wingers in the team at the minute as Urzaiz joins Perez, Histilloles and Goikoetxea on the crocked list. I think I must have seen every type of injury there is on the game in this save now.
Our next match is an all-Basque affair as we welcome 9th-placed Real Sociedad, who beat us 1-0 last time. They have no absentees of note, but I’ve almost run out of wingers, so Mendieta moves up field and Tabuenka fills the right back void, but gets injured almost straight away, so Galdames is on less than a minute after taking his seat on the bench. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Larrainzar then gets injured as well on 40 minutes, so Rios drops to centre back, Mendieta comes back to defensive midfield, and Arregui comes on at right wing. It looks certain to be a stalemate at half time, but we’re awarded a penalty right before the whistle, which Guerrero duly fires home.
The visitors clearly feel hard done by, and equalise almost immediately in the second half. I‘ve yet to make my mind up on whether to keep Arregui, partly because I can’t give him much playing time, but whenever he has been called upon, he’s done the business, and he puts us back in front on 74. Diego Ribera looks to have snatched a point for Sociedad with 7 minutes remaining, but Loinaz ensures that as Anne Robinson would say, “they leave with nothing”.
So another vital win, and one that takes us up to 4th as Betis surprisingly suffer defeat to bottom of the table Rayo Vallecano, and the good news doesn’t end there, as Atletico Madrid draw with Sevilla, which means that we’re now 2 points behind them with a game in hand, so 3rd place is very much still on.
Confirmation of the injuries to Tabuenka and Larrainzar come through from the medical team, who must have gone through a fair few notepads in the last two seasons.
Barcelona were crowned champions this weekend, so well done to them, and also to Aston Villa, who won the FA Cup over in England.
Goikoetxea and Histilloles both return from injury, but neither are fit enough for our next match against Compostela, who are 18th, and held us to a 1-1 draw in our previous encounter. I thought they did a good thing in letting Andrew Mainwaring join Reading on loan, but he’s only managed 2 goals in 6 appearances for them, so maybe he should have stayed in Spain. Mendieta comes back at right back in place of Tabuenka, Galdames replaces Larrainzar in the centre, and Arregui starts on the right wing.
We’re off and running inside 10 minutes, with Loinaz’s 20th goal of the season, and Etxebe gets his 14th to give us a 2-0 half time lead. The second half sees three more goals, with Laslandes firing in his 23rd Basque Boys goal, Loinaz getting his second of the match, and Guerrero scoring his umpteenth penalty to complete the rout.
The win puts us 3rd, but probably only briefly as Atletico Madrid play tomorrow. Betis are on level points with Atleti, but have played a game more, and Deportivo are now 6 points behind them, so the worst we can finish is 5th. Either way, our final game against Betis is huge.
Barcelona make a good year a great one as they beat Juventus to win the champions league, but I find some comfort in the fact that we denied them the treble.
So to the Betis game, which we need to win to guarantee 3rd place. We can afford a draw, but we’d be relying on Atletico losing at home to Tenerife, which is unlikely. Betis beat us 1-0 last time, but Fernando has now left, so that will lessen their attacking threat slightly. Jarni and Solazabal are injured, so that’s half of their normal back line missing as well. I decide to play play a bit more cautiously than normal, and adopt the 3-3-1-2-1 formation, with Rios at centre back, Garitano in the anchor role, and Loinaz the loan striker, with Laslandes on the bench.
As so often happens when two top sides meet, we cancel each other out in a rather dull affair, which sends us 3rd for the time being at least.
Urzaiz and Tabuenka return from injury, but then we receive the news that Atletico beat Tenerife 2-0, so we finish 4th. I can’t really have many complaints, last season was always going to be hard to match, and we’ve not played as well this time, but we still have a cup final to play.
Here’s confirmation of the final table. When you look back at all the matches we should have won, we could have done so much better, but football is full of ifs and buts.
Barcelona won the title by a single point in the end, and predictably them and Real Madrid were a street ahead of anyone else.
We finished top scorers in the league, but also conceded the second highest amount of goals in the top half, so I really must do something about that next season, and maybe experiment with some different formations and tactics.
The transfer window is back open, so straight away I make bids for Ezquerro and Ivan Campo, who will both improve the quality of the squad if I can get them.
Now for probably our most important match since I’ve been in charge, the Copa Del Rey final against Espanyol. Few would have given us a prayer against Barcelona, but we managed to contain them and scrape through on away goals after two draws. Espanyol finished 7th in the league, and we beat them 5-1 and drew 1-1 with them in our two league meetings this season. They’ve no absentees, but we’re without our skipper Rafa Alkorta, so Rios takes the armband and starts at centre back, Garitano is in defensive midfield and Laslandes comes in to partner Loinaz up front in the standard 2-3-1-2-2.
It’s a closely-fought affair, with neither side wanting to give an inch, and it’s goalless at half time. There’s no real need to panic just yet, so I don’t make any changes and tell the boys that if they keep doing what they’re doing, the chances will come. As the second half minutes fly by, we survive a few scares and waste a few chances, but Urzaiz finally gives us the lead with 12 minutes remaining. Espanyol have battled us all the way through this match and deservedly equalise 5 minutes later through Martín César.
As we prepare to restart the match, I’m mentally preparing my team talk for extra time, but we go straight on the attack and Laslandes fires home what should be the winner. As he runs towards our fans in the corner of the ground, I can’t contain my excitement, and do a Mourinho-esque run and jump down the touch line to celebrate with the boys before reminding them that there’s still 10 minutes to go and not to do anything stupid.
There’s time for one last Espanyol chance, but it comes to nothing and as the final whistle goes, I drop to my knees on the touch line and shed a few joyful tears. I shake Jose Camacho’s hand and commiserate a few of his players before embracing my boys and joining them on the podium to lift the trophy in front of our delirious fans as red and white confetti rains down on us.
The board are delighted with the cup win and with my performance as manager. I have to thank them for keeping faith in me when results weren’t going our way, even if I think they were premature in considering my position.
The players depart for their summer holidays, and I begin the clear out. Bastida, Lacruz and Huegun all return from their loans, and I relegate Lakabeg, Billabona, Txutxi, Urrutia, Goikoetxea, Ziganda and Lacruz to the B team to hopefully make way for some new players.
Campo and Ezquerro both sign, which I’m delighted with.
Here is the season in stats, starting with average ratings. The skipper leads by example, with fellow defensive player Rios, and keeper Etxeberria not far behind.
Laslandes proved to be worth every penny of the £3.9m we paid for him, and Loinaz got over 20 for the second season running. Last season was always going to be hard to match for Etxebe, but I think the injuries to all the wingers didn’t help him as I had to play him on the left wing for much of the season, which prevented him getting as many goal-scoring chances.
Laslandes also tops the assists list, so he’s obviously as selfless as he is ruthless. It’s also nice to see a good supply of assists coming from the wingers, so they are clearly doing their job.
I can’t believe my keeper had so many man of the match awards. I’m pleased for him, but also alarmed because he must have been a very busy man, so sorting the leaky defence out next season has to be a priority.
There’s a bit of French fire at the top of the disciplinary points list, but I cannot fault the passion from anyone.
We’re awarded £5.4m for finishing 4th in the league, but interestingly I’ve yet to see us be awarded any money for winning the Copa Del Rey, but it’s not as if I’ve got a long list of transfer targets to splash it on.
So that concludes season two of Basque Boys. It’s been the usual bumpy ride, with plenty of goals scored and conceded, and more than enough injuries too. One thing that we have proved this season though, is that you can win things with homegrown talent, and don’t have to spend big bucks on superstars to compete. I hope you’ve enjoyed it, and thanks for reading!
There’s no rest for the wicked though, as I’m about to hop on a plane to Italy, where I’ll take on Serie A with the CM01/02 Aces in season two of 2001: An Ace Squad-yssey, so watch this space. Adios amigos!