Athletic Bilbao – Match Report vs Atlético Madrid 14/06/20

This is a guest piece from Ollie Spencer.

For a match in which Athletic Bilbao were considered by many as underdogs they thoroughly impressed. The Basque team reacted well to an early Atlético goal, going on to really control and largely dominate the first half whilst the second was far more of a balanced, reserved and tightly fought contest with a score of 1-1 proving a fair result.

Athletic Bilbao started the game in a fairly standard 4-2-3-1 formation with both fullbacks often pushing higher up the pitch leaving the defensive midfielders to drop and spread wider filling that space. The three behind the striker were very fluid throughout with all three players able to play anywhere across the line and frequently combining and crossing over very effectively. With half an hour of the game left to play changes were made by both sides with Bilbao manager, Gaiska Garitano, making tactical substitutions which saw his side change to a 4-4-2 to match and mirror how Simeone’s Atlético Madrid set up.

Ratings:

  • A1 – Very good, could play higher
  • A2 – Strong potential to play higher
  • B1 – Good, strong player at level
  • B2 – Potential to be strong player at level
  • C – Average for the level, re-watch
  • D – Below average in this match

Yeray Alvarez

Player profile:

  • Nationality: Spanish
  • Age: 25
  • Date of Birth: 24/1/1995
  • Current Club: Athletic Bilbao
  • Career: Barakaldo (Y), Danok Bat (Y) Athletic Bilbao (Y), Basconia, Bilbao Athletic, Athletic Bilbao
  • Position: Centre Back
  • Preferred Foot: Right

Yeray Alvarez has been a regular fixture at the back for Athletic Club in recent years, fast becoming one of their best and most important players meriting a new 7-year deal last summer with a €70m release clause put in place. From the outset of this game Yeray’s dominance at the back was immense with his positioning and marking immensely impressing, always seeming to be in the right place at the right time.

His quality at reading the game and cutting out any potential chances was second to none, making countless, perfectly timed interceptions with ease to nullify and limit Atlético’s goal scoring opportunities making an impressive 5 clearances in the game. He showed great athleticism throughout, not being afraid to go in for a tackle and winning several really well executed and timed slide challenges, one of which leading to a good counter attacking opportunity. Yeray was aerially dominant against a team with physical forwards such as Diego Costa and Morata, winning 7 aerial duals, with a very respectable 58.3%.

On the whole he was also hugely impressive in his intensity, commitment and physicality, using his size so well to block shots and make diving challenges, always seeming to be first to every ball – a real no-nonsense defender. That said, Yeray had a poor lapse of concentration and really let himself down for the goal, gifting possession to Atlético with an under-hit ground pass out from the back which directly led to an easy equalising goal for the opposition. What was frustrating was his reaction to his mistake, or lack of, and he disappointed in his casual approach after losing possession, not showing enough urgency and desperation to amend his mistake.

Yeray’s error leading to the goal aside, he had a very solid and imposing performance, and if he irons out concentration issues could become a really valuable, reliable and top centre back.

Rating – A2

Unai Lopez

Player profile:

  • Nationality: Spanish
  • Age: 24
  • Date of Birth: 30/10/1995
  • Current Club: Athletic Bilbao
  • Career: Real Sociedad (Y), Athletic Bilbao, Leganés (L), Rayo Vallecano (L)
  • Position: Centre Midfield
  • Preferred Foot: Right

Unai Lopez played a simple game, but played it expertly, impressing when in possession with his quality on the ball, as well as looking equally strong out of possession with his positioning, which was a forte. Watching him he is very comparable to a player such as Xavi, in regard to their stature and style, both sitting deep, with their main purpose to retain possession and create from deep, and both slender and slight in build with both players standing only at 5’7″. Like Xavi, Unai Lopez has a low centre of gravity and used it brilliantly to his advantage in this match, making himself near impossible to dispossess, shielding the ball well and winning fouls.

When in possession Lopez looked so composed and confident, always picking the right pass at the right time, playing sensible balls and not afraid to go backwards if it meant keeping possession for his team. On one occasion Lopez showed excellent skill and intelligence to take a heavy touch which took him into space and away from the pressing opposition before playing a simple bass back to his teammate. As well as this Lopez showed an excellent range of passing throughout the game with a great direct pass forwards to the feet of Iñaki Williams and several, perfectly executed cross field switches of play, often to the advancing left back, hugely impressing with his judgement and vision.

It was perhaps out of possession however where Lopez most impressed. He always made himself available for his teammates as a constant really viable option, taking up perfect positions in pockets of space in the middle of the park. Lopez showed great spacial awareness, always checking over his shoulder ensuring he was in a good area to receive the ball. Lopez’ body positioning was excellent too, always turned to face the ball, opening his body up ready to receive a pass.

Lopez can also be a two way, box-to-box, midfielder, showing good forward play at times with great close control, making one or two key passes. His defensive skills also impressed, often finding himself filling in at right back with Bilbao fullback, Capa, liking to venture forward. Towards the end of the match Lopez made a couple of really well-executed and well timed tackles, at crucial times in the match, staying on his feet, using his small stature well and doing enough to poke the ball out of play.

An overall really impressive, well rounded, game from Lopez, who hardly put a foot wrong in this match before being substituted off with just under half enough left to play.

Rating – A2

Inigo Cordoba

Player profile:

  • Nationality: Spanish
  • Age: 23
  • Date of Birth: 13/3/1997
  • Current Club: Athletic Bilbao
  • Career: Athletic Bilbao
  • Position: Left Wing
  • Secondary Position: Right Wing
  • Preferred Foot: Left

Cordoba played on the left side of a 3 behind the striker, due to him being left footed this made him more of a traditional winger as opposed to an inverted winger / inside forward. Cordoba applied good pressure on the Atlético defence straight from the off and posed a constant threat with his pace and power, two big strengths of his game.

He most impressed this game with his movement and runs off the ball, staying on the left, providing a good option out wide with really clever, well timed runs, which, frustratingly for him were rarely used and found, meaning his overall effect and influence on the game was limited. Cordoba showed good attacking instincts too, finding himself in very promising areas in the box various times. On one occasion he made a really good near post run only just avoiding contact on a low whipped cross and later showed poaching instincts to follow in on a Williams shot, ready to capitalise on any spills from Oblak.

Cordoba exhibited good technique on the ball in the game, displaying solid crossing ability on several occasions with accurate deep crosses from the left. He also showed good feet in tight areas in and around the box, managing to turn well before playing it back out wide to the left back, Berchiche, in space. He combined well with the overlapping left back all game, dropping deeper when Berchiche would push on and overlap.

Cordaba’s quality was certainly there for all to see, although he struggled to ever properly grow into the game and have enough of an influence on proceedings before being substituted off in the 62nd minute.

Rating – C

Unai Simon

Player profile:

  • Nationality: Spanish
  • Age: 23
  • Date of Birth: 11/6/1997
  • Current Club: Athletic Bilbao
  • Career: Aurrera Vitoria (Y), Athletic Bilbao (Y), Basconia, Bilbao Athletic, Athletic Bilbao
  • Position: Goalkeeper
  • Preferred Foot: Right

Unai Simon wasn’t troubled a great deal by Atlético, who were unusually lacklustre and flat going forward, but when questioned did enough for the most part. He was called into action early in the game with one of Atlético’s best chances coming just 11 minutes in. His response was far from convincing and quite concerning as he showed hesitance and a lack commitment in whether to come off his line or not. He initially came out to try and close the angle down but realised his mistake so started retreating only for him to lose his footing. Luckily for Simon the shot from Carrasco narrowly avoided both his fingertips and the goal, but Simon’s indecisiveness and clumsiness was a concern, not only in this action.

Simon showed great reactions when questioned in this game at vital moments pulling off a brilliant close-range recovery save to deny what looked a certain tap in. However, the need for this save was very preventable and was the consequence of a poor initial save where he failed to push the first shot wide enough or behind and instead into the path of the attacker waiting. As well as recoveries and reactions being a strength of Simon’s game, he also showed good pace at times, and especially impressed in his distribution, with 58% accuracy and 8 successful long balls, all of which were at a good height and trajectory and mostly reaching the final attacking quarter and often finding a teammate.

Simon showed signs of promise, but there are plenty areas of his game that need improving before he can be truly relied upon and regarded as one of the top keepers in this league.

Rating – C

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