Athletic Club played a perfect match on their visit to Valencia, after defeating the locals…
Athletic Club played a perfect match on their visit to Valencia, after defeating the locals by 0-3, thanks to Yeste’s free-kick goal, and two others scored by Llorente. It was time we won with competence and composure and, to do this, our team has chosen an all-too-complicated context and scenario. That’s how things are for Athletic.
Last Sunday, even after playing a great match, two points escaped us, Athletic had the presumed calendar load on their yet weak backs, the table is quite tight in the lower part (and it was more so at the beginning of the match), Valencia is an undeniably qualified rival and, to round things off, the team had not defeated the hosts in Mestalla in two decades.
Today, however, the trend was reversed and it would not be surprising that the incoming seasons those in charge of directing the weekly statistics in the media talk about how we’ve won four straight campaigns. Beyond the numbers, what is important is that the team, with all their load, is growing in confidence, self-esteem, ball possession, is improving when it comes to scaring away complexes (the second goal play was paradigmatic) and in all the lines from the defence to the forwards, the one that comes out responds and makes it difficult for his companion. Nevertheless, in this zigzagging from black to white, Primera Division remains a weekly test and, just in case, we can’t forget that the next test will be with the current table leader as judge and jury.
And at this meet, as was anticipated after their European set-back, Valencia started the clash rather strong, as well as imbued by the unmentionable hope of finding the aspirin version of our Athletic. It didn’t turn out that way, although Silva enjoyed a good goal opportunity in the 3rd minute, but his shot from up close went wide.
It was the only clear choice and Athletic the culprit of the drought. The pressure began from above and our team faced the match without prejudices, with the defects it still hoards when it comes to putting the ball into play from the back, or trying to do so, but with the confidence that it’s headed in the right direction. Every week it becomes clearer that Athletic does not know how to play the waiting game entrenched in the back, especially since we don’t seem to have the most appropriate components to do so, at least for a whole match.
In the minute five it was a defence, Amorebieta, who was planted before Cañizares, who diverted the shot although the referee had called off-sides. The same happened in the minute 11, when Gabilondo saw the celebration of a goal in the off-side pit because Llorente was going to clinch from an unlawful position. We have to be consoled by thinking that perhaps it was too soon in view of the precedent at the Lluis Companys. In the minute 23, Etxeberria tested Cañizares. Almost immediately, Iraola and Orbaiz had their own opportunities and in the 31st minute, Gabilondo penetrated down the left, but his shot ended in corner after being deflected by a defence and Cañizares.
Finally, Yeste brought justice to the marker when he skilfully transformed a curving free-kick from the same flank in the minute 33. It was about time.
It wasn’t a new situation for our colours, since Athletic has lead on numerous occasions this season, but this time the team responded with much greater fortitude, without backward steps except on those counted occasions when the rivals pressured.
The only concern at the break was the individual yellow cards that Koikili and Iraola had deservedly seen. The fact that the Valencia players retired to the changing rooms without seeing any cards was, at least, ironic and absurd.
The start of the second half was difficult. It was expected that the Koeman’s team would put the pressure on and that’s how it was, although the first controversial action was a possible penalty on Llorente in the minute 48 of play. Immediately afterwards, Silva shot on goal wide, in the third minute, just like in the first half. The ball was still Valencia’s, but it hardly had any options. Control without danger, attributable also to the good work of a less fusing defence than other match days, but equally as effective. To lend a hand in those containment tasks Javi Martinez came in for Orbaiz in the minute 53, with no major changes to the rojiblanco formation.
From the opponent’s bench, Koeman had a substitution planned for the minute 61. It was his intention to introduce Zigic, seeing as the solution was going to be to pump many balls, but with no time to come in, Llorente practically sealed the match. The forward from Irun finished off a good collective play in which Iraola signalled the cross, but instead short-passed to David Lopez who perfectly crossed to Llorente who headed it home; Nil to two.
Zigic replaced Morientes and Caparrós moved Javi Martinez to cover the front to avoid the controls of the Serbian ‘giant’. And he achieved it. Soon afterwards, in the minute 63, Vicente came in for Fernandes and Silva was changed to the midfield; also in vain. Athletic had difficulty coming out at times, but was still convinced that putting on the pressure and quick exits was the only way of obtaining many doses of tranquillity. Gabilondo penetrated his flank quite well in the minute 68, but his cross didn’t find anyone. It was his last action before being replaced by Murillo, at which time Athletic changed to a 4-2-3-1 with Llorente, in Mestalla he’s been the giant, as the lone reference on the attack.
The tactical picture was closed with another two changes in the midfield. Albelda substituted Edu in the 70 and Garmendia came in for Yeste in the 75. One could say Valencia was already playing with five forwards, but more with their hearts than with their heads, which allowed more intensity around Aranzubia’s area: in the minute 86, the goalie blocked a shot by Villa with his feet; in the 87, Joaquin shot high (it was a corner); Zigic carried out a lazy shot on goal in the minute 88 and in the 90th Albiol shot a rebound, but high.
The demanding home crowd prepared their handkerchiefs and all sorts of advertising elements to send their team off with the sound of wind, but our team never stopped watching the Valencia goal and, in the second minute of injury time, Joseba Etxeberria moved up to provide an alternative to the pumping of the area, he scratched a cross that Cañizares was unable to cut off and that Llorente finished off on the half turn; doing statistical justice to his remarkable game in Mestalla.
In the end, a well-deserved victory at one of the toughest grounds which serves to believe in our own strengths. Now, let’s see if the same happens on Saturday. It is not mere trifle, but the team has opened doors to many dreams, which is no small feat.