Athletic Bilbao vs Malaga

A fairly tight game ended in a 0-0 draw at the San Mames. Neither side offered much in an attacking sense.Coming off the back of a superb home victory in the Champions League, Pellegrini is likely to be the happier manager with a point which maintains their unbeaten start to the season. Malaga set out with a fairly conservative approach with Toulalan and Camacho deep in midfield shielding the defence.

Malaga Defence

For the sixth time in eight games this season, Malaga have prevented their opponents from scoring. Their defensive solidity requires considerable work on the training ground and it’s an asset of a Pellegrini team that is often overlooked. Teams under the leadership of Manuel Pellegrini are often noted for their short, sharp passing as they control the centre of the pitch.A frugal defence is not high on many people’s perceptions.

In the defensive phase of the game, the team is extremely well organised and hold a line along the edge of the penalty box as can be seen below.

Malaga Defensive Line – De Marcos breaks through

This is the exact same defensive set up that Pellegrini perfected at Villarreal with the likes of Javi Venta, Capdevila, Godin and Gonzalo all holding the offside line at the edge of the penalty area.

Athletic were caught offside on seven occasions during the game.

On the few occasions when Athletic managed to break through the offside line, opportunities arose such as the one pictured above for Oscar De Marcos.

These scenarios arose infrequently however as Athletic failed to offer the same level of dynamism and mobility that they did last season in attack. Too often the players were disconnected and isolated with combination plays few and far between.

The loss through injury of Aurtenexte has severely impacted upon the attacking threat from the left side of the Athletic team particularly as Muniain moves to a central position. On the right side, the marauding Iraola appears to be slightly deeper. As the gaps between the players becomes longer, passing becomes more difficult and the opposition are able to intercept the ball more easily as the graphic below illustrates:-

Malaga Interceptions vs Athletic                                              http://www.squawka.com

Again, this reinforces the strong defensive set up that Malaga have. They avoided diving into tackles around their own penalty area with Monreal particularly impressive, making six interceptions and two tackles during the game all of which occurred in the left back area.

Athletic Set Up

There appears to be some slight changes in the Athletic set up from last season as alluded to above. The biggest issue though is undoubtedly the lower intensity of the team. The success of Athletic last season was the sheer relentless nature of their high pressing and the quick tempo of their short passing game as they swarmed over their opponents. That seems to be lacking now. They still chase and press their opponents but it’s easier for opponents to break through the man marking system which Athletic employ. Opponents get slightly longer in possession before they are closed down allowing them to turn, to pick out a pass. For the system to remain effective,pressing high up the pitch must be quick. As soon as an opponent has time to evade that initial press, Athletic are vulnerable in defence.

Despite dominating possession, Athletic were unable to create many clear cut chances. One problem which they encountered was building the play from the back as they prefer to do. The veteran midfielder Gurpegi is used in the centre of defence, a replacement for Javi Martinez but he lacks the passing range of his predecessor. Similarly, despite his limited mobility, Amorebieta also offers a wide range of passing which neither San Jose or Ekiza can provide.

The midfield trio of Iturrapse, De Marcos and Muniain did not offer the right blend in this game. Muniain was positioned to far forward in the first half and De Marcos is a midfield runner. There was nobody in the centre of the pitch to build and cajole the play. The creativity of Herrara was sorely missed. As a consequence, Athletic began going longer and became more direct.

This led to Aduriz contributing virtually nothing in the game:-

Aduriz passes vs Malaga                                                           http://www.squawka.com

Aduriz moved deeper to become involved in the game but with limited service and players too far away, there was little chance of linking and developing play.

Aduriz was withdrawn at half time and replaced by Llorente.

Llorente -To play or not to play?

For the second game in a row, Llorente joined the action from the substitutes bench. Last week against Espanyol, his impact was immediate as he scored with his first touch. Here, he offered little as Athletic struggled to gain any fluency to their play and offered him little service.

With a more direct approach, Athletic should have been able to knock balls towards Llorente which he holds up and brings others into play but he suffered the same problem as Aduriz:-

Llorente vs Malaga                                                                        http://www.squawka.com

Malaga refused to let Athletic push them deeper, maintaining the high line. This should have meant it was easier for Athletic to pass but their lack of a creative outlet centrally stymied them.

Athletic are now stuck with a problem. If Llorente retains his wish to leave, Athletic will need to offload in January to try and recoup some sort of fee for him. In the interim, what does Bielsa do? Does he try and get the last couple of months from Llorente or does Aduriz, his successor, stay in the team as first choice striker?

Llorente is clearly the better player but will he behave in a professional fashion or will his mind wander to pastures new whilst he sees out his time in Bilbao?

Bielsa has decisions to make ahead of the Basque derby next weekend.

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One Response to Athletic Bilbao vs Malaga

  1. Pingback: Morbo Minute–Listen all y’all, it’s a sabotage « Soccer Nomad

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