Athletic Sending A Message With The Best Start To The Season In 26 Years
Athletic’s 2-0 win over Alavés on Sunday was nothing short of dominant, but it certainly wasn’t surprising. Since Gaizka Garitano took over as manager the Lions have been one of the strongest and most consistent teams in Europe, building their success on the foundation of organized defending and intense pressure. In truth, it’s a return to Athletic football of old and the results tell a special story.
Five games into the season and Athletic sit at the top of the La Liga table. Sure, the Lions are level on points with Real Madrid but goal difference has Athletic in first. Quite impressive for a team that didn’t spend a euro during the transfer window. Over the summer many projected that the Basques would fall back down to earth after an unbelievable run under Garitano following the managerial change in December. The “newness” of the manager would wear off they said.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Not only has Athletic continued playing at a high level, the team has actually improved. Garitano had the entire summer to truly put his system into affect and the Zurigorri have been remarkable. No matter how great the performances may be, Garitano constantly pushes the team to be better and refuses to look any further ahead than the next match. The massive success is no fluke, it’s been earned.
Athletic have conceded just once in the opening five games and haven’t trailed for a single second so far this season. The structure of the defense, and overall team in general, has made it nearly impossible for opponents to create chances and the high pressure has been suffocating. Defending well is always the top priority and when that is accomplished, the team can look to attack which has also been steadily improving.
The fantastic start has been special, but it’s also been historic. Athletic’s 11 points from 5 games is the best start to a season since 1993. Sitting at the top of the table has fans dreaming about a miraculous league title or, at worse, qualifying for the Champions League. Bilbao is full of excitement and there’s reason for it. This team, led by Gaizka Garitano, has quickly become a force in La Liga and great things can be accomplished.
Athletic have been the picture of consistency and Sunday’s win over Alavés was a great example of what this team is capable of.
Unai Simón made the saves that were needed, the center-backs didn’t allow anything in or around the box, and the fullbacks were flying up and down the wings causing all sorts of problems. In the midfield, Dani García protected the backline and was the anchor for the attackers while Unai López was free to drift and cycle possession. Up front Iker Muniain and Ibai Gómez were constant threats along with a veracious Raúl García. Despite not scoring a goal, Iñaki Williams was the best player on the pitch as his pace and passing led to several chances and Alavés could do nothing about it.
Once again Garitano had gotten the lineup right, and his changes were perfect as well. Beñat came on for López and was able to add more balance as Alavés pushed forward looking for an equalizer. Iñigo Lekue replaced Muniain to provide more energy and defense while Aritz Aduriz replaced Williams to add more punch up front. Even before the changes, Garitano moved Gómez, Raúl García, and Muniain around multiple times to get the best possible combinations in attack.
Garitano knows his squad on a very deep level. The Mister understands which players will succeed in specific roles, how to get the best out of each individual, and has already proven to be a sensational motivator. He’s balanced experience with youth and isn’t afraid to put anyone on the field. The squad is full of confidence but the players are keeping their feet firmly planted on the ground and only focusing on one game at a time.
It’s the consistency, the defensive organization, and the commitment to a specific system that has Athletic firing on all cylinders. There’s still a very long way to go to see where the Basques will finish the season but so far this team is sending a message that they are for real and will compete for a top place in the La Liga table.