Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Tuesday March 25th ....

La Liga : Elche- Athletic Bilbao

Almeria twice fought back from a goal down last night to earn a 4-3 victory over highflying Real Sociedad . Three things about that, it took the home side out of the drop zone and within a point of Elche , extended Athletic's lead in the race for 4th to eight big looking points and showed Elche what you can achieve with the right application and total commitment.
Bilbao do not need to win this, closest challengers Sevilla are hosting Real Madrid tomorrow and Athletic will want to keep something back for the visit from Atletico Madrid at the weekend. Elche simply have to get something out of the game, with three of their next four starts being trips to Villarreal, Valencia and Atletico Madrid ! They are in the heart of the relegation scrap, have to battle for every blade of grass and however tough this might appear on paper, it is at least easier than those three upcoming fixtures.
You know that I am a fan of Athletic and their purist football beliefs, they have done us any number of favours over the last three seasons, not least last midweek at Villarreal, with that late goal (notes reproduced below), but you cannot win every game, or always play at the same intensity, this is a philosophy that won us so much money in Brazil last season ( and will do so again this summer), the need to "pick your battles" and a rare full midweek round in Spain, when there are bigger games ahead on home soil, is probably not one Bilbao should be opting for, especially facing an opponent desperate to survive in the top flight.
The home coach knows what is on the line tonight and has asked the crowd for full support for 90 minutes + and his players to leave the pitch with "no regrets", if they want to be playing top tier football in 2014-15. Team news is not important for me in these situations, heart , desire and motivation are all that matter, game of the season for Elche. 1.5 units Elche +0.5 ball 2.0 asian line /Ibramarket.
Elche have conceded just three home goals in the opening hour , Athletic have conceded 11 of 18 road goals (61%) between the 21st and 50th minute, so a good opportunity for the hosts to still be in this (or even ahead) entering the final third , giving good trading opportunities with this bet, if you want to go down that route. Getting involved in the first half is also an option..............the rest is up to you !

Athletic: Iraizoz, Toquero, Laporte, Erik Morán, San José, Beñat, Iturraspe, De Marcos, Iago Herrerín, Susaeta, Iraola, Mikel Rico, Muniain, Aduriz, Ander Herrera, Saborit, Ekiza , Balenziaga.

Good Luck.

La Liga: Villarreal-Athletic Bilbao  (written March 17th)

I am pretty sure that Athletic would snatch your hand off for a point tonight, it would give them a six point lead over Real Socieded in the Champions League race and effectively end the top four hopes of Villarreal.
Athletic are clubgowi favourites we won a LOT of money on them in 2011-12 and some readers have only just stopped counting the winnings from the win over Manchester United at Old Trafford which was two years ago last week. They blew across Europe like a breath of fresh air that season and we followed them almost all the way, 7.50 to win at OT was CRAZY. They were totally fearless that year, just like their coach the, in equal measures, brilliant and bonkers, Marcelo Bielsa, with that defeat of United, everyone knew how good they were, but  I had written six months earlier ....

New coach Marcelo Bielsa is a real one off and it has taken a little time to get his ideas across, but the benefits are starting to show and we can expect Bilbao to come on very strong in the next couple of months. Bielsa is very meticulous, he personally checks pitch measurements before every away game and has been known to give four hour press conferences ! He favours a high pressing game, with the strikers putting a lot of pressure on opposing defenders, whilst at times this looks a fairly rigid formation, he makes a lot of subtle changes during the course of the game, which sometimes give them five forward players. 18 yo Iker Muniain has been outstanding in the last two seasons and he has been very influential in the last two games, setting up a lot of chances for the front three. Far more options for the coach tonight with the return of big summer signing Ander Herrera from injury and Ekiza to the centre of defence after suspension and this is a young, developing team of huge potential.

This season I wrote within two weeks of the new season starting ... "Athletic Bilbao look destined for a solid season, they did not do much business in the summer, but the signing of Beñat Etxebarria from Betis looks top quality and Mikel Rico and Kike Sola will improve squad options. It was felt they might take time to adjust to Ernesto Valverde, who is a very different coach to Marcelo Bielsa ( isn't everyone ?), but he had eight years here previously as player and coach and understands how this club, which is very much a one off, operates. Aside from the top 3, Athletic look as strong as anyone and could compete for a top 4-6 finish if they can build on a decent start ( two wins and loss to Real Madrid) ,over the next month. The loss in Madrid was a bit of a wake up call, as people were getting a little carried away after winning their first two and they need to bounce back today. "

The coach came in for criticism shortly after for too much rotation, but has opted for a more settled line up since and they are in control of 4th spot at present and buoyed by a defeat of Barcelona last time out in La Liga.

They were huge odds to finish top 4, remember they finished 12th last season and I also suggested newly promoted Villarreal would have  abig season on opening day....Of the promoted clubs Villarreal look by far the strongest, they have spent a little money to get competitive, are still a big name club around Europe and the chances are, that we will come to view their one year hiatus in the second tier as little more than a blip. Whether they can quite return to former glory, they finished 8-3-7-5-2-5-7-4 in their eight seasons before relegation, is open to debate, but I expect a mid season finish this time round at the very least. They finished last season strongly, 9th in late January and seven points off an automatic promotion spot, they went 13-6-1 over their last 20 starts and pipped Almeria to second place. Spanish international defensive midfielder Bruno Soriano (36-4-4 last season) has been at the club man and boy and through the Champions League years and remained loyal, likewise offensive midfielder Cani (37-3-5) amongst others. That loyalty ( on both sides) was repaid and now Villa look well equipped for life back in the top flight. They have added some real quality with the signings of another defensive midfielder in Tomás Pina ( 36-0-1 Mallorca in La Liga), he and Soriano will make a fairly formidible pairing, plus gifted Mexican international strikers Giovani dos Santos (29-6-6 Mallorca) and Javier Aquino (joined late in the last transfer window). They did lose Javi Venta to Brentford ( !), but signed central defender Gabriel Paulista from Vitoria of Brazil (14-1-0) this week and they have spent some 17-20m euros on transfer fees alone, when others have kept very tight hold of their purse strings. To put that into perspective, whilst adding players, the other two promoted clubs only actually spent circa 50k on transfer fees between them !

Ikechukwu Uche (32-14-4) Jonathan Pereira (20-7-4) Jérémy Perbet (18-11-3) all remain and with the Mexican duo, they look to have as much offensive potential as any outside the really big players in Primera, if they could hit the ground running, a really strong season is in the offering and even a top six finish not impossible. Pereira , Perbet, Aquino only signed in January and made a huge and instant impact . They are spending money on the team in other ways too, chartering a plane to fly to Almeria at lunch time, so that they can prepare in Valencia this morning and staying in the city overnight.
Villarreal could move into 5th with all three points tonight and that ends my sales pitch for highlighting why you should read the content of the previews and not just focus on the bottom line .
Briefly, back to today, in stark contrast to the Roma game, I am looking for late action here, the hosts have conceded 10 of 16 home goals in the final 30 minutes, 6 in the last ten, which is the worst home defensive record in La Liga . Bilbao are 5-1 (goals scored -conceded) in the last ten minutes on the road, only Real Madrid have scored more and only Real and Barcelona are stronger after the break than Athletic. Good opportunity late again for the visitors, especially with Villa having to gamble for maximum points. 1 unit Bilbao at the best asian quote approaching the 60 minute mark if we are 11 v 11 and they are not already ahead.

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