Where did it all go wrong for Athletic Bilbao? At the end of last season they had emerged as almost everyone’s second favourite side; their run in the UEFA Europa League had won them many admirers and it was thought the club would go from strength to strength.
However, the summer then came along and slowly but surely discontentment descended upon the club. The manager, Marcelo Bielsa, very nearly walked out on the club; their leading striker, Fernando Llorente, expressed his desire to leave the San Mames and lastly their centre back and defensive lynchpin Javi Martinez left for Bayern Munich during the summer transfer window.
This was the season that many obsersvers thought would see Bilbao competing for a place among Europe’s elite by qualifying for the Champions League. Instead the club find themselves near the bottom of the Primera Division having had a terrible start to the season. However, one shining light thus far has been the return of Aritz Aduriz; the 31 year old striker was signed from Valencia this summer and has scored six goals in nine games in the league.
The form of Aduriz has been a welcome relief for Bielsa who has been fighting his own battles with Llorente and has thus not been playing the Spanish International striker. It has meant that Aduriz has become arguably one of Los Leones’ most important players this season and of the eight points they have currently secured seven of them have come as a result of his goals.
It is Aduriz’s third spell at Bilbao which has made the transition easier as he knows many of the players and personnel within the club already. As well as being a good finisher he also thrives on the kind of link up play everyone became so accustomed to witnessing last season between Llorente and Muniain. Indeed Aduriz is similar in stature to aforementioned Llorente which is probably why he has enjoyed initial success this season.
There is no doubt that Bilbao are not where they should be so far this season. Whilst many thought that Malaga would struggle it is the Basque team that have been the disappointment. The club appears to be wrapped in turmoil and from week to week it appears to become more unstable. It appears inevitable that Llorente will move on in the January transfer window as his contract expires at the end of the season and that will place more dependency on Aduriz’s goal scoring.
If Bilbao are to turn this early season disappointment into something more positive the club are going to have to come together. In Aduriz they have a player who clearly cares for the club and seems determined to drive them up the table. So far this season the club have failed to find any consistency but without their new striker the situation could be considerably worse.
Few would have expected Aduriz to have been the shining light thus far but many fans are now hoping that he can continue it for the remainder of the season.
Written by Andy Hunter
Follow him on Twitter @hunter67980
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