Athletic Bilbao to edge rivals in Europa League push


Athletic Bilbao’s La Liga season is set to go full circle in the coming weeks as they look in pole position to claim the last Europa League spot in the Spanish top flight.

The Basque side are up to seventh in the table, with three games to play, taking full advantage of rivals Alaves’ dip in form as the season enters into its final stage.

They have a three point lead on their Basque neighbours, after drawing 1-1 with them last weekend at San Mames, and face relegation threatened Celta Vigo and Real Valladolid in the final weeks.

The crucial factor in their upturn in form has been a change in management, with Gaizka Garitano making the move from B team manager to first team coach following the sacking of Eduardo Berizzo in December 2018.

With the club languishing in the relegation zone upon his arrival, he set to work quickly and dragged them out of the bottom three by the turn of the year.

They have not really looked back since then, with home town hero Garitano overseeing just three defeats in 21 La Liga games, pushing them up the table, just as their rivals were beginning to fall away.

They have beaten Sevilla and Real Betis, Atletico Madrid at home, and held Barcleona to a draw at San Mames, in a run of form that has seen fans clamour for Garitano to be offered a long term deal.

However the club continue to hedge their bets after mixed results when promoting from within in recent seasons, and after installing him as permanent boss, after the La Liga stipulated two week caretaker period, he has only been given a year extension.

That situation could well be reviewed in the summer if they can end the season strongly, and unlike previous managers, Garitano does not appear under pressure to sell his star names.

Inigo Martinez, Iker Muniain and Inaki Williams have all been superb for Garitano, and he will be determined to keep hold of them this summer, if any of La Liga’s big hitters come calling.

Williams in particular is flourishing under Garitano, and is on course for his highest ever La Liga goal tally after playing more and more as a central striker.

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