This article wouldn’t have been possible without the help of my good friend and Israeli football expert Leora Conway. She’s got all the inside info on our rivals. Thank you Leora!!
What’s new? Athletic defense seems to be getting worse and worse as time passes, in part due to Bielsa’s stubbornness to use players completely out of their normal positions. Gurpegi as a centre back is painful to watch, because he’s very slow and doesn’t know when to mark. Iñigo Pérez as a left back is laughable because he simply cannot defend and when he goes up he usually forgets to come back and help in defense. Iraizoz is singing more than Julio Iglesias on a senior cruise. (cantar = to sing in Spanish, it is also used to note when a player makes many, many, many mistakes.) Gorka doesn’t seem to be able to clear the easiest balls, that’s one of the biggest reasons why Athletic has let in 12 goals so far in La Liga this season.
As usual when we start with Bielsa the EL is our saving grace. We managed to get through 2 qualifying rounds without a glitch. (We had it easy to be completely honest. Last year we got a CL team and qualified because they went up due to the Turkish scandal) We didn’t get the best of groups due to the fact that we have to face the likes of Olympique Lyonnais and Sparta Praha but all in all I think we did well to avoid teams like Liverpool, Napoli and Leverkusen.
Our rivals are pretty unknown to most people following European leagues. They aren’t the most famous side in their own country. It’s particularly funny that many Spanish journos are calling them just Hapoel. (It really shows that they barely do any research on foreign leagues. They honestly should know better since Atlético de Madrid is playing the Hapoel Tel Aviv!) You can’t just call them Hapoel because that’s like saying “Real” in Spain and there is Real Sociedad, Real Mallorca, Real Madrid etc.. In Israel there is Hapoel Tel Aviv, Hapoel Acre, Hapoel Ramat Gan, etc.. Hapoel means “laborer” because the clubs were started by blue collar or union type workers as opposed to the “Maccabi” teams, which means soldiers from the biblical term. It wasn’t about a monarch giving clubs a “blessing” (like in Spain) but more of a political left & right wing issue refers to how or why Israeli teams got their names.
How are Hapoel doing in the Israeli League? They have won two games and lost 1 (last Saturday against Netanya), so they are in 4th place with 6 points. Ashdod, Hapoel Tel Aviv and Maccabi Tel Aviv are sharing the top spot with 9 points each. (Goal difference makes Ashdod the temporary leader of the league). It seems like the recent league loss didn’t impact the Hapoel negatively since the coach is bound to use the same exact lineup that played against Netanya. Their plan is to maximize on the counterattack against Athletic since (as I’ve discussed before) it is the Spanish team who has the worst goals against stat and there are many gaps between lines, especially since most of the team goes up to attack (a Bielsa trademark).
Athletic has a great attacking line-up and if we go with Ibai-Aduriz-Llorente like we did last match, there is a huge chance we can score a lot of goals and secure most of the tie in San Mamés. The most important thing is to not allow the Israeli side to score more than 2 goals. (At this point, anything below 3 goals against us is a good result!) Thankfully we will get a “real” left back this time thanks to Iñigo Pérez’s injury. Xabi Castillo will start in an official EL match for the first time. We can’t bench Iraizoz right now because Raul lacks a LOT of experience and doesn’t give more security than Gorka anyway.
All I’m really asking of Bielsa at this point is that he stops using Gurpegi as a CB. That’s it.
Athletic Club (God knows what Bielsa is gonna do, but let’s hope it is this one) (4-3-3): Iraizoz – Castillo, Amorebieta, Ekiza, Iraola – Iturraspe, De Marcos, Muniain – Ibai, Aduriz, Llorente
Hapoel Ironi Kiryat Shmona (4-4-2): Amos – Gabai, Hasarma, Tzedek, Matović – Gazal, Einbinder, Rochet, Tasevski – Lencse, Abuhazira
We will most likely win this tie due to the fact that we have the capacity to score more goals than our rival, but it would still be a good test to see how the defense looks without Iñigo and Gurpe.
The last European season of San Mamés is on its way, let’s hope this time we can go all the way and win a title, something that we have not been able to do for the last 28 years.
Goazen Athletic, Zu Zara Nagusia!!