La Liga Weekend: Athletic Bilbao Continue to Struggle
The headline of this La Liga Weekend comes from the Basque country where Athletic Bilbao continue to struggle. This week they had a game at home against Real Valladolid, a match they would traditionally fancy. But this season Valladolid have been the better side, Athletic Bilbao have struggled to escape the relegation zone just before Christmas
Athletic Bilbao 1 Real Valladolid 1
When Athletic Bilbao play at home at the new San Mames, it is one of the best atmospheres in Spain. San Mames is also one of those places that expects to see Athletic Bilbao control their games against ‘weaker’ opposition. It’s alright to be out-possessed by Barcelona or Real Madrid; but against Valladolid, Bilbao should be doing better.
In this game against Valladolid, Athletic struggled to even keep hold of the ball at home. They only had 43% possession, preferring to sit in a block and hope they could grab a goal. That strategy almost worked for Athletic; the lovely penalty by Aritz Aduriz almost saw them home. But Oscar Plano equalized in the 92nd minute ripping the three points from Athletic Bilbao’s hands.
The game almost became a cartoon manifestation of the Athletic Bilbao struggle this season. Real Valladolid came to San Mames, out-possessed and outplayed Bilbao, and went away with a deserved point. With more and more teams doing this to Athletic it’s no wonder they currently sit 17th in the table.
Athletic in Real Trouble
Athletic currently sit just one point above Villareal and a place in the bottom three at Christmas. This is a club that has never been relegated in their 120-year club history. This is also a club with an unorthodox policy of Basque-only players, and their fans would rather keep that than stay up. But going down would be a catastrophe.
They really are a better side than the place they are in; or rather, they should be. This is a team with ten draws this season before Christmas and only two wins in that span. They really struggle to score goals; between the 37-year-old Aduriz, and the often struggling Inaki Williams. Williams hasn’t scored at San Mames in over TWO YEARS. But without the ability to reinforce Athletic are in more trouble than it may seem.
Barcelona 2 Celta Vigo 0
Barcelona needed a professional performance at home against a Celta Vigo side that is feisty and has caused them trouble in the past. Though the game did not always seem secure, Barcelona were able to secure a 2-0 win at home. With goals from Messi and Dembele, it was the perfect step into the Holidays.
The first goal was a classic Barcelona stroke, with Lionel Messi finding Jordi Alba and Alba returning it to Messi for a trademark shot. However, this one was saved by Celta keeper Ruben Blanco.
Blanco was very strong in net for Celta, but his save went right to Ousmane Dembele who was there to mop it up. The goal was Dembele’s seventh in the league this season, despite all the chaos around his campaign.
Barcelona’s second was a lovely through ball from Jordi Alba finding Messi for a lovely finish, making up for their saved effort in the first half. That was Messi’s 15th goal in the league this season as he continues to lead the league in almost every offensive category.
With the win, Barcelona moved back ahead of Atletico Madrid (they’re next) by three points. And now four straight clean sheets for Ernesto Valverde’s men is something to be proud of heading into the new year.
Atletico Madrid 1 Espanyol 0
The other big result was another trademark 1-0 win for Diego Simeone and Atletico Madrid. They conceded 62% possession and were outshot 18-8 but still, Madrid found a way thanks to another Antoine Griezmann penalty. It wasn’t a great performance, Espanyol made them struggle, but it was a vintage Atletico performance and another three points.
All kinds of chaos on the Espanyol side, however. That’s now seven straight losses in La Liga for Espanyol. Since they missed the chance to go top they have free fallen all the way to 12th and have been dragged into mid-table madness.
But at the top of the table is still Barcelona on 37 points. Atletico sit second on 34 points, just ahead of Sevilla. Sevilla have 32 points after a last-second equaliser to save a point at Butarque against Leganes. Real Madrid round out the Christmas top four though they still have a game to play after their foray into the Club World Cup.