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Can Man Utd overturn Bielsa's Athletic?

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Alistair Magowan - BBC Sport | 10:08 UK time, Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Walking away from Old Trafford last Thursday as Athletic Bilbao continued Manchester United's woes in Europe this season, there was a nagging feeling that the hosts had underestimated their Spanish opponents.

Roared on by 7,000 travelling supporters, Athletic's thrilling 3-2 victory in the last 16 Europa League tie leaves Sir Alex Ferguson's side needing to score at least twice in order to progress. And apart from the 6-1 defeat inflicted by Manchester City earlier this season, it is hard to recall a recent game where the Red Devils have been so outclassed.

As former Valencia and Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez told the Football Focus Forum this week: "I was talking with some former Athletic players and they were telling me that maybe United didn't realise how strong and how good Athletic could be."

The win for Marcelo Bielsa's team, who derive from the Basque region in Spain, was the product of a hard-working, well balanced and supremely technical performance.

And only a number of outstanding saves by Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea, plus some clinical Wayne Rooney finishing on an otherwise poor night for the England striker, mean that this tie is still in any sort of balance.

Even though Ferguson said afterwards he had expected Athletic to be "very aggressive in terms of their attacking and pressing the ball", his team - without Rio Ferdinand, Michael Carrick, Paul Scholes and Danny Welbeck - struggled to contain their opponents and as the Scot admitted they were not helped by some poor defending.

Athletic seemed to take Manchester United by surprise in the first leg at Old Trafford

Athletic seemed to take Manchester United by surprise in the first leg at Old Trafford

Indeed, Athletic's performance was reminiscent of another outfit which has been a thorn in Manchester United's side in recent seasons: Barcelona.

That should come as no surprise given that Barca boss Pep Guardiola regards former Argentina and Chile coach Bielsa as a mentor.

Bielsa, 56, who has been linked with jobs at the Nou Camp and Chelsea, is known in Spain as 'El Loco'. But the way he has imposed his methods on a team previously regarded as one of the most direct in Spain since he took over in the summer has come as a pleasant surprise.

The Argentine coach's young Athletic team came within a whisker of beating Guardiola's team earlier in the season and will face the Catalans in the Copa del Rey final. They are also in hot pursuit of a place in next season's Champions League.

True, Bielsa's team may not have the same calibre of players as Barca, but with six players aged 22 years or under starting against United, they are a team which is only going to develop.

"Our simple ethos is this: we try and win the ball back as quickly as possible from our opponents as far up the field as we can," Bielsa told me. "And by that I mean everyone is involved in regaining the ball, from the forwards through to anyone else.

"Then once we have the ball, we try and find a way of getting forward as quickly as possible, in a vertical direction if you like. But we don't get frustrated if we can't get it forward immediately, we aim to be comfortable on the ball, and if it's not a case of going forward straight away, we keep it."

Sounds simple doesn't it? But it is a formula that Manchester United struggled with and they will need to get a grip on the midfield battle when they travel to the Basque country on Thursday.

As notable as Athletic's pressing was, it was their attacking talents that lit up Old Trafford and it will be a brave person who predicts they will not score again at the Estadio San Mamés. For large parts of the game in Manchester, they effectively played with four strikers with Oscar de Marcos (10) supporting lone forward Fernando Llorente (9), as Iker Muniain (19) and Markel Susaeta (14) provided the width.

Athletic's average positioning allowed them to attack from the full width of the pitch

And there were several occasions, in keeping with Bielsa's previous methods, when the trio of midfield anchor Ander Iturraspe (8) and centre-backs Javi Martinez (24) and Mikel San Jose (6), were the only Athletic players not to be stationed along the United penalty area. It said something about the balance of the game that United were the counterattacking team with only 42% of the possession.

De Marcos, 22, and Muniain, 19, were exceptional, with both deserving of their goals, but Iturraspe was a dream to watch at times. He hounded Rooney to the extent that he was almost wearing the United striker's socks by the end, and he was always on hand to receive the ball while threading passes wide to build attacks. It was some performance.

It allowed Martinez, normally a midfielder, to venture forward causing yet more problems for the already overrun Ryan Giggs and Phil Jones in the centre of United's midfield.

So what will the Premier League champions change for the return leg?

For a start, Ferguson is likely to begin with a formation that better matches the Spaniards by using three central midfielders. When he did this in the second half at Old Trafford - helped by the introduction of Carrick - the team had more success in closing gaps that appeared before the break.

He will also have noticed that with Athletic full-backs pushing way up the pitch to maintain their width, United did have some success in the spaces behind them. Ashley Young began brightly on the right, but Nani may be preferred to Park Ji-sung, who had a relatively quiet evening.

More than anything, Ferguson will realise that his players will have to match the incredible work-rate that Athletic showed in the first leg. And they will have to cut out the sloppy passing that often gifted the ball back to their opponents.

Athletic will be wary of United's response, with last season's Champions League finalists likely to field a stronger side if they want to remain in the competition, but that will depend on how important Ferguson considers the Europa League now.

One thing is for certain: with such a youthful team determined to finish the tie off and build on a season of real promise, there is little chance of Los Leones (the Lions) sitting on their lead.

"We always go out to attack our opponents and go for victory," Bielsa said. "Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but we won't alter the style of play we have."

You can also discuss more tactical issues and follow me on Twitter


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  • Comment number 1.

    United have a chance if they get an early goal and hold on to it till late in the 2nd half. One certainty is that they will sweat profusously

  • Comment number 2.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 3.

    I think Nani's injured for the game but luckily Valencia should be fit to return to the starting line up. He was in exceptional form up until his hamstring went about a month ago. His energy and determination is tailor made for playing against a team like Bilbao, affording both extra defensive cover and genuine width to exploit any gaps left by their overlapping wing backs.

    The one thing that should be said about Bilbao is that their defence is not the best, they are heavily reliant on the pressing game in the opposition half to prevent teams from running at them. I think a three man central midfield of Carrick, Giggs and Park (alas no Fletcher) should help to gain more possession in the return leg with the pace of Young, Valencia and Rooney doing the damage in behing on the counter.

    The big question though is whether we are stong enough at the back to keep them out, providing Rio is playing and De Gea doesn't succumb to the nerves of playing infront of a boisterous Bilbao crowd, i think we have a chance. A slim one, but a chance nonetheless.

  • Comment number 4.

    How can you say a mid table La Liga team is technically superior to the best English team in the last 20 years, soon or if not already....ever! For me the Spanish La Liga is almost as excting as the SPL with 2 teams winning everthing and if they dont its classed as a shock! Also regards to dogeareds comment about Howard Webb - of course Howard Webb is the only reason we have won a record number of titles and other silverwear - do your homework chap or did the dog eat it lol!

  • Comment number 5.

    As per usual a blog for rival fans to have a pop at United. What a surprise!
    I think if you asked 95% of united fans they will say the same as me, we've been very poor in Europe this season. Sitting back to much and allowing other teams to play their game is not the way to play in Europe anymore, you need to be aggressive, clinical and tidy, or youll get battered, like we have found out.
    I think united will have to pull out all the stops in the secong leg, full concentration, be clinical up front and strong at the back or were going out early again.

  • Comment number 6.

    #2 dogeared

    I don't really buy into that myth, but, it was amusing that a few decisions didn't go there way and the look of horror on the faces of the players who are used to getting the rub of the green.

    Anyway, it's a case of Man U taking their chances isn't it, rather than it being a tactical battle. Athletic took theirs in the first leg and that's why we're where we are.

    p.s. why blog on this rather than Chelsea v Napoli?

  • Comment number 7.

    Same old trash from dogeared

    Utd were simply outplayed on the night and Fergie once again underestimated oposition, nothing to do with any reff not bailing utd out thats just trash talk again

    Utd will field a better side but it may not be enough in Spain to go through thats my opinion and yes im a utd fan.

  • Comment number 8.

    I doubt stubborn old Fergie will actually follow tactics that will succeed in beating Bilbao.

    Been banging on for years (literally) that the way to beat barca & teams like them is to flood the midfield, zonally press them to death in packs, and attack down the wings.

    The likes of scholes, carrick, cleverly (if fit), anderson (if fit) have to play in a 3 man midfield. Nani and Young out wide are a must also. Rooney has to be tactically astute and use the space. Ferdinand and Evans (who'd have thought) have to play. And jones or rafa on the right (whichever is in the mood to defend if they lose the ball). Even then it's a tough order. There will be spells where we won't have the ball, and need to be concentrating.

  • Comment number 9.

    Don't really care either way. £78 for a ticket for the game is ridiculous for a start and try as I might I just can't get excited about the Europa League, and judging by the attendance last Thursday neither can most season-ticket holders.

    United's biggest game this week is at Molineux on Sunday.

  • Comment number 10.

    I'm not sure it was a case of under-estimating them, more that Athletic were just that good.

    It's not a vintage United side and as such they can be expected to struggle against top class continental opposition, even as a United fan I was baffled by the amount of people who viewed the first leg result as a massive shock.

    Having said that, it is United and with their European pedigree they still have a good chance of progressing.

  • Comment number 11.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 12.

    #10 niceweatherforthecyclops wrote:

    Having said that, it is United and with their European pedigree they still have a good chance of progressing.
    I should imagine you thought that, and more, before Basle away. See what happened to them last night as well!

  • Comment number 13.

    Im not to sure if we can turn it around, i think we gave alot of convidence to AB with our very poor display at OT. but as its united we copuld put 6 past them! who knows.

    2.At 11:38 14th Mar 2012, dogeared wrote:
    I know, how we managed to get to 3 out of 4 champs leagues finals without Howard Webb i will never know!! suppose though with Suarez trying to con every ref at every opportunity we can only even things up by transferring webb into our squad!

  • Comment number 14.

    This ManU is good enough for the EPL but simply not good enough against better technical European clubs. San Mamés is the worst place to go with a disadvantage for any visiting team and Bielsa is a very clever coach. ManU is in for a good spanking

  • Comment number 15.

    Atletico are a top team who have prospered under a strict regime (although it has been slightly adjusted recently.)

    Bielsa deserves a lot of credit not just for this team but also his amazing Chile team at the WC.

    Why he hasn’t been linked to the PL is beyond me.

  • Comment number 16.


    This is true, but then again Basel aren't quite on the same level as Bilbao.

    I was surprised to see them go down 7-0 last night though.

  • Comment number 17.

    6.At 11:48 14th Mar 2012, MrBlueBurns wrote:
    p.s. why blog on this rather than Chelsea v Napoli?
    you know what these guys are like, they will prob put one up if chelsea are knocked out, with the AVB story done the bbc have no use for chelsea atm. its all in the balance for united, a big shock by AB is enough for them to get 1000 comments, its united after all, we all know how the unitedphobics like to vent there stress on these informative forums

  • Comment number 18.

    14.At 12:01 14th Mar 2012, guyastral wrote:
    yeah it looks like a hard place to go being a goal down, but that is what drives the united team, if they need to goals dont bet against them getting them! im looking forward to it, i think Bilboas tempo suprised everyone, i have watched them many times this season and that preformance was there best by a long shot, in fact they were terrible against Ossasuna (spelling?) in comparison.

  • Comment number 19.

    I think Bilbao are technically too good for Utd and will win on the night again. Further proof that La Liga is miles ahead of the Premier League:


    And City beating Villareal twice (Villareal getting zero points in the Champions League) and a shambles of a Chelsea team hammering Valencia would dampen that argument slightly.

  • Comment number 20.

    #19 We all follow United

    a shambles of a Chelsea team
    Steady on!

  • Comment number 21.

    yes,no,perhaps,maybe,who knows and to be honest the game will be far better for the neutral to watch than that hoof and chase,kick and run,punt up anfield derby i watched last night.

    without a favourable ref united will always struggle .

    as for the chelsea game if you get there 20 mins before kick off with your boots you should get a game.

    i end by saying its so nice liverpool players,supporters, manager and back room staff continue to look up to Arsenal.

  • Comment number 22.

    Based on the last match, even if United play very well, we could still go out. They look a really decent outfit and United's record in Spain is very poor. Needing to score 2 and keep a clean sheet ... I'm not awfully confident to be honest.

    But I think the sweeping conclusions being drawn from this about United and English football in general, are premature.

    As I pointed out to someone recently, Bilbao are in the position Liverpool often used to find themselves in under Benitez at this stage of the season. Not challenging for the league, and able to devote squad resources and tactical/psychological focus to their European excursions. That's not to devalue their achievements or the way they played at OT - easily the best visitng team in the last few years. But that was their most important game this season. With the title race the way it is, it wasn't even our most important game last week.

    There's no excuse for complacency on Utd's part, and many players were guilty of sloppyness. But very few teams have the resources or mental fortitude to be able to dig deep for 60-odd games in a season.

    If we go out tonight, but are lifting the PL trophy in May, I don't think there'll be too much consternation among the fans.

  • Comment number 23.

    3-man central midfield please, Fergie.

    Its like we have forgotten everything we have learnt from the last 5 years in Europe!

    Don't see us going through but for once this season in Europe, I would like us to put in a tactically good performance.

    Will be a great atmosphere over there. Hope the new stadium is as good.

  • Comment number 24.

    Well you know what I mean, compared to previous seasons this is hardly a vintage campaign for your lot. And yet they were more than good enough to hammer Valencia 3-0.

  • Comment number 25.

    @ just what u expect from a liverpool fan. How many dodgy decisions have been made in front of the kop end over the years ?

    Come up with a proper comment mate or dont bother

    United defo need to put full strength team out this time,i would be rather frustrated if they didnt. Either way its gonna be a tough ask but since bilbao got beat at the weekend by osasuna who i wouldnt say are the best team in the world it shows they can be abit complacent which i hope they will be in the 2nd leg.

    Fergie also needs to figure out how to combat the spanish tactics(high pressing,ball retention,etc) which have seen us being beaten by barca and now bilbao

    Come on united !

  • Comment number 26.

    All i will say on this is that Bilbao's away kit is one of the finest i have seen in years.

    I have purchased this wonderous garment already.

    Oh and i think City will beat Sporting 2-0 and United will win 2-1 but go out due to away goals. Putting more pressure on City as United will only have the league to concentrate on!

  • Comment number 27.

    above was @2 dogeared :)

  • Comment number 28.

    United lost and were pathetic because they yet again underestimated a team at home in Europe, with Fergie being the worst.
    How he thinks he can leave out Scholes, Carrick, Ferdinand, after only recently talking about how important they are to the team, is beyond me. He has done this in every home game in Europe.
    The players also played without the usual determination.

  • Comment number 29.

    22.At 12:24 14th Mar 2012, kanchelskis_legend wrote

    i think to say that it was their most important game this season is rather arrogant to be honest.

  • Comment number 30.

    #24 We all follow United

    Yeah, I know, but, still....

    Anyway, I shall reserve some judgement until after tonight. Which is, incidentally BBC, BEFORE the second leg of the lesser European competition.

  • Comment number 31.

    I enjoyed the article. Good read.

    But I wish I could find just one football blog / forum / website / pub / anything in which people actually discussed football without the colour of their shirt coming into it. Every single post on this website is ruined by the vast majority of people who comment on it. It is impossible to have any sort of intelligable debate.

    The first leg should've been an opportunity for those who don't follow Spanish football to be completely surprised by how good Athletic Club (not Athletic Bilbao, by the way) and Marcelo Bielsa are. It has nothing to do with Howard Webb. It has nothing to do with Chelsea. And it certainly has nothing to do with why a BBC journalist chose to talk about a result which will have shocked most rather than a result that surprised no one (Chelsea-Napoli).

    This is also the perfect opportunity to direct a comment at all of those who vehemently deny that La Liga is better than the Premier League (even though they have probably never watched any games):

    The facts are, the current Premier League champions and league leaders after 28 games lost at home to a team who are seventh in La Liga, outside the European positions, and can only select players from the Basque region of Spain...

  • Comment number 32.


    They didn't start the likes of Martinez, Herrera (brilliant technically, really like the look of him) and Llorente against Osasuna. Martinez is key to the way they change from defence to attack, from the back or in the middle.

    Although, its not as if there wasn't anything riding on the game against Osasuna as CL spots are still very much up for grabs.

  • Comment number 33.

    23.At 12:25 14th Mar 2012, 11_Giggsy_11_dont_save_606 wrote:
    3-man central midfield please, Fergie.

    Its like we have forgotten everything we have learnt from the last 5 years in Europe!

    Tell me about it!!! I wince every time I see the 4-4-2 formation out in europe. Why not go a step further and bring back the old W-M formation!!

  • Comment number 34.

    Moyes is still on to replace fergie then :)

    and news just in;

    Windsor Safari Park have put in an improved offer for Carroll

    more to follow:

  • Comment number 35.


    I don't think its being arrogant, considering they were out the night before in tents in the cold outside the ticket office in Spain for tickets to the game at OT. They are a passionate lot and this was/is a big tie for them in terms of buzz and excitement. Its not often they have faced the likes of United, Milan, Juve, etc, in a European competition tie in recent times.

  • Comment number 36.

    29.At 12:32 14th Mar 2012, signori wrote:
    22.At 12:24 14th Mar 2012, kanchelskis_legend wrote

    i think to say that it was their most important game this season is rather arrogant to be honest.
    I think the AB players and management said the same, as i mentioned above, AB put on there best preformance of the season at OT, now it uniteds turn to do the same!

  • Comment number 37.

    To say it was more important to Bilbao than United though is very fair. Neither leg is as important to United as matches against West Brom or Wolves. Rightly or wrongly winning the Europa League is a bit like winning the Carling Cup in my view, it's good on the day of course but forgotten about by the next morning.

    If we get through, good. If we don't, also good.

  • Comment number 38.

    26.At 12:28 14th Mar 2012, signori wrote:
    Oh and i think City will beat Sporting 2-0 and United will win 2-1 but go out due to away goals. Putting more pressure on City as United will only have the league to concentrate on!

    Is Savic playing? I think all hope for a clean sheet goes out of the window if he's on the field!!

  • Comment number 39.

    32.At 12:33 14th Mar 2012, 11_Giggsy_11_dont_save_606 wrote:
    yeah, they rested a few but that just shows they still feel united are going to be a very tough test at home, rested or not they have to score first to put the tie to bed,playing like that plays right into united hands!

  • Comment number 40.

    I would love to see United go through. However I am not convinced that Ferguson has an answer to the 'Barca' way. He has had plenty of time to come up with answers and his team selection for the first leg was just badly wrong. United's defending this year has been shocking at times, I understand we have injuries, but these guys are professionals who get a lot of money and at times they have defended like a bunch of 10 year olds. I think Ferguson needs to get back to the time where he had faith in the kids and play them. Too many good players have left United ( Pique for example) because they were not getting a game. Time to play the youth and show us what they have. Scholes and Giggs will be too slow next year.

  • Comment number 41.

    @ 4

    and how many teams have won the English Premier league over the past 20 years.? 4.! considering the EPL has twice the number of teams as the SPL then it sounds about even to me. I can remember back in 93 Celtic finished 4th in the league and teams such as Motherwell were finishing above them easy. Dont disrepect the SPL....its all about MONEY, and they dont have any. Sky will pay Wigan/Wolves etc 30-40m for tv rights this year, the old firm will get 1m each.

  • Comment number 42.

    Did you go to the Bilbao game? There were almost as many Bilbao fans as reds, even in the Stretty End! Top people though, chatted to a few of them before the game. One had fashioned a full size Uefa Cup out of tin foil and was wearing it on his head and another was wearing a Bilbao dressing gown, mental.

  • Comment number 43.

    for the fans, yes of course its huge for United to come to their ground, but lets not forget they play Real madrid and Barca at their stadium too. the comment was in regards to the team, i thought it was arrogant to say that playing United was their biggest game of the season, to the fans maybe but to the players?? no way they are 3 points off 4th spot and 7 off third, to say that playing United away in the europa league is bigger than their league games at this point in the season is very arrogant to me.

  • Comment number 44.

    37.At 12:38 14th Mar 2012, We all follow United wrote:
    If City stay in the comp then theres always reason to stay, if it came to a United v City final i'd say that would be a very good night of football. as things stand both teams need to win to progress, the europa legaue might just leave city and united red faced!

  • Comment number 45.

    Can we win by 3? Yes.

    Will we? No.

  • Comment number 46.

    38.At 12:41 14th Mar 2012, eduard_streltsov_ghost wrote:

    I havnt spoken to Mancini so im not sure as yet.

    Is Evans, Rafael or Rio playing? better get that recipe book out page 37 marked 'disaster'


  • Comment number 47.

    42.At 12:42 14th Mar 2012, We all follow United wrote:
    One had fashioned a full size Uefa Cup out of tin foil and was wearing it on his head and another was wearing a Bilbao dressing gown, mental.
    just to be sure, there was no sign of padded walls by any chance! ;)

  • Comment number 48.

    We are clearly gonna have to go for it and use the old utd tactic of we will score more than you,will need to score at least 3 me thinks. Wouldnt play hernandez tho coz he doesnt look quite right yet after injury.

    I would go for...

    ------------De Gea----------

    Then clevrley coming on as 1 of golden oldies tires

    I see we have topped the injury charts again,been a long old season for injuries,ah well. Cant be much worse next season....

  • Comment number 49.


    Their players are from the same region of Spain as their fans, so there is a bloody good chance they know how important this game is to the club, fans and the region and even to themselves. That is one of the benefits of having Basque-only players, as they have a better relationship with the fans and a better understanding. Yes, they are still in for CL contention, etc, but the players as well as the fans that visits to teams like Milan, United, etc, haven't come round often in recent times. Its a big game for the club, not just for the fans. In terms of 'prestige', it is potentially their biggest game of the season. There is a line between pointing something and being arrogant, I don't think what we have said is being arrogant as illustrated by the comments by their players and the club in general prior to the first leg as well as the passionate behaviour of their fans

  • Comment number 50.

    "it was amusing that a few decisions didn't go there way and the look of horror on the faces of the players who are used to getting the rub of the green."

    I presume one of these few decisions you speak of was the offside goal? Quite a reasonably impact, that one.

    The third goal was a disgrace, but only the fault of the player involved. If we dominate, if the players want it, we can do it. But from what i've seen, too many of the players don't seem bothered, and the club has bigger fish to fry in the league for which the powder must be kept dry.

  • Comment number 51.

    I wait with baited breathe for Soul_patch to get here. With this blog he's going to have a field day!

  • Comment number 52.

    46.At 12:46 14th Mar 2012, signori wrote:
    Is Evans, Rafael or Rio playing
    I hope so, Evans and Rio have been a great pairing, fergie spoke about there partnership before the AB game, then put rio on the bench, cant see that happening again!

  • Comment number 53.

    46.At 12:46 14th Mar 2012, signori wrote:

    Stop me if I'm wrong with the stats here, but we are unbeaten post MCY with the evans - rio partnership??

    I think it'll be page 38 "disaster" if he sticks to 4-4-2. THough interestingly pogba is on the trip as well. Nani, anderson & jones are all left at home. Let's hope park doesn't start either.

  • Comment number 54.

    Some of these comments are hilarious. United fans need to realise they have been poor for the majority of the season, and Fergie needs to stop mixing his team up so often. I mean Phil Jones CM with Giggs??? Laughable.

    @ 21 - it seems you sir are the charade. Punt and kick at Anfield? Clearly you weren't watching the game properly, probably fantasising about how many children Wenger will sign in the summer. If you are an Arsenal fan, then you will know that you got completely outplayed and outclassed by Liverpool, who with a bit of luck would have been 3 up at half time. Also if it wasn't for one man (RVP) you would be languishing at the lower end of the table. And before you say it, yes you're ahead of us in the league but once again Wenger is trophyless and once again your best player will leave in the summer.

    Back to the blog...Bilbao have some good players but i still expect Fergie's lot to win. 3 nil...Rooney hattrick.

  • Comment number 55.

    'pointing something'.... 'out'


    anyhoo, Rio-Evans have been solid for us, in the last few months anyway and apart from a mistake here and there, Evans has been good this season in a constantly-changing defence.

  • Comment number 56.

    I think that this new-styled Bilbao can outplay Man Utd in terms of the quality of their football. Reading the Spanish press today, however, key men like Llorente may be missing, which can only be a positive thing for Utd. Can Man U score 2? Of course they can. But having seen Athletic play several times this season, the control they exert now over games makes me think that they'll have enough about them to wrap this one up before the end of the game

  • Comment number 57.

    That's another problem, the players have seemed paticularly bothered right from kick-off in the Amsterdam Arena and the majority of season ticket holders around me in the Stretty End opted seemed to have out of the Bilbao game so the atmosphere was garbage. It is what it is, a distinctly second class competition that struggles to raise any excitement.

  • Comment number 58.

    Premier League is more important. United have looked off-color in Europe; even during the start of the season when United were playing their best; they were struggling in Europe. Complete turn around from last season (no news there).
    Midfielders are needed. I dont think the defense is bad; the midfield is just allowing too many shots at the defense; that needs to be stopped; mf needs to hold the ball better; which is not happening.

  • Comment number 59.

    For those of you who werent there (who seem to be in the majority in most United posts I read on here)we were over run in midfield and Phil Jones was woefully out of his depth. Fine central defender though he most certainly is - the re-shuffle after Smalling's departure spared him further embarassment, but it was too late. Bilbao were the best team to come to OT this season (inc Citeh) and thoroughjly deserve to go thru, which I fully believe they will. Regretrably this is not the treble winning team of '99 capable of away heroics in Europe driven on by a certain Mr Keane...

  • Comment number 60.

    49.At 12:50 14th Mar 2012, 11_Giggsy_11_dont_save_606 wrote:

    i am well aware of Bilbao and its history, my point was to Kanchelskis and not yourself or any other united fan, hi soriginal post said that it was the most important game of the season to the team and not the fans, and that it wasnt even United's most important game that week, just thought that sounded arrogant thats all.

    53.At 12:52 14th Mar 2012, eduard_streltsov_ghost wrote:

    Im pulling your leg mate :) Savic has been awful this season i agree and we look very shaky when he plays especially without Kompany or Lescott. Just a bit of banter my friend, i hope we both go through for the sakes of the title race.

  • Comment number 61.


    Its just the way it is with English teams, in relation to their level of respect/priority to Europa competition. The likes of Villa, Stoke (not even a full bench!) and Spurs have done the same in recent seasons. Wolves away have caused big problems in the past and with the league title at stake, I don't think one can be too surprised at that view.

    I would like us to go through but league is the be and end all for me, this season and considering how tight it is, can't afford to take many risks in relation to team selections in regards to juggling Europa and PL. Though I definitely want us to put out a display of tactical competence against Bilbao as its been a worrying sight watching us in Europe this season.

  • Comment number 62.

    60.At 13:02 14th Mar 2012, signori wrote:
    Im pulling your leg mate :) Savic has been awful this season i agree and we look very shaky when he plays especially without Kompany or Lescott. Just a bit of banter my friend, i hope we both go through for the sakes of the title race.

    I know mate, I'm just a bit shocked myself that despite the critiscism evans has played "ok" and looked quite solid with Rio. I shudder saying that because to think evans was preferred to pique should make you shudder.

    I think savic may come good next season, think it's more of a confidence thing. I remember kompany wasn't as imposing in his first season, look at him now!!

    I must say I enjoyed watching both games last week. Good football from the continental sides, and interesting to see how the manc sides approached it. WIll be interesting to see how the games swing thurs.

  • Comment number 63.

    Javier Hernandez' average position backs up what is becoming an annoying regular occurance. Just offside... @gazedwards1

  • Comment number 64.

    This may be blasphemous to some United fans but we must NOT play Giggs in central midfield. I am worried every time i see him starting against a team that will attach us in midfield.

    He is defensively lazy and doesn't provide any cover. Giggs is brilliant at breaking down teams who come to park the bus and not for teams who come to win. And when he does get the ball he does that stupid turn and instant long ball that gives possession away 90% of the time.

    Carrick, Cleverley and Scholes please. Valencia and Young with Rooney up top.

    Or play Wellbeck instead of Cleverley and let Rooney sit a bit deeper.

  • Comment number 65.

    It is rather strange to read Utd fans complaining about non-Utd fans commenting on this blog, when the Moyes blog was full of Utd fans lambasting Liverpool.

    22. At 12:24 14th Mar 2012, kanchelskis_legend
    I think you are absolutely spot on. Utd left out key players like Scholes, Rio etc to save them for the PL. A good run in the Europa is nice, but nowhere near the importance of bagging title no. 20. Bilbao have no chance in La Liga so can go all out against Utd. If Utd play their strongest side (now the title race is over) then they have a reasonable chance. Bilbao are favourites but surely everyone knows you write Utd off at your peril. I am looking forward to a good game.

  • Comment number 66.

    #50 GenesisRed

    Ha, ha, let's not go down that road. Afterall, how close was your penalty to be a free kick outside the box?

  • Comment number 67.

    I agree with the masses that we need a 3 man midfield for European games (especially away from home).

    Now that we're top of the league with an easier run in, we should exploit this and ensure we crank up the pressure on City by getting 6 from 6 by beating Wolves then winning against Fulham at home - this whilst City have Chelsea at home on Monday followed by Stoke Away on the 24th March. We could be 4-7 points clear by the end of March.

    In light of this, i propose the following matchday squad for the return leg:

    GK: De Gea
    RB: Fabio
    CB: Smalling (fitness)
    CB: Jones
    LB: Evra

    CM: Pogba
    CM: Giggs
    CM: Cleverley (fitness)

    RW: Valencia (fitness)
    LW: Welbeck
    FC: Berbatov

    No point risking the likes of Ferdinand, Evans, Carrick, Nani, Young, Rooney, Hernandez etc. especially given that we're unlikely to win, and the fact that we dont really care about this competition - to echo what a previous poster has said, give the youngsters some exposure - or they will leave! Hopefully the rumours are true that Pogba has decided to stay....

  • Comment number 68.

    Ferguson didn't underestimate Bilbao and he knows all about Marcelo Bielsa. He had to make do with the resources that were available and also take into consideration domestic fixtures. He also got his first half tactics wrong and adjusted accordingly in the 2nd half. The 3rd Bilbao goal came against the run of play and if Rafael had been looking the other way and De Gea communicated to his defender that he need to high tail it back for the ball then perhaps it would have finished a draw.

    I have the up most respect for Marcelo Bielsa and his protégé's Pep Guardiola and Jorge Sampaoli. These managers are defining a new philosophy of football and the likes of Ferguson and Wenger need to take note. That said Bielsa needs to adopt a plan b when the opposition are technically gifted and can cope with the high pressing tactics e.g. Spain vs Chile in the last world cup. He could take note from the EPL and how teams defend deep and zonal and then break on the counter attack.

    United will be better drilled for this encounter and it is still in the balance. But I would not put my mortgage on them being in the next round of the Europa league!

  • Comment number 69.

    61.At 13:08 14th Mar 2012, 11_Giggsy_11_dont_save_606 wrote:

    If Wolves don't get hammered by utd on sunday then we don't deserve to win the league, they have been awful under Connor.

  • Comment number 70.

    The main hope i have for this leg is that countless times in European competition we have been stuffed in the opening leg but teams have failed to kill us off.

    Bilbao should have won by 3, reminiscent of when Roma beat us 2-1 but it should have been 5. We then stuffed them 7-1, granted we were at home but there has been many a time when we've been let off in the first leg only to come through it.

    I would say the same for City, Porto should have gone for you in the second half instead of sitting back as you were well and truly there for the taking. Instead i think you'll be confortably through at home. Will be interesting anyway.

  • Comment number 71.

    If we lose tomorrow, all the haters will come out laughing loudly. If we win, well, they will stay in usual. Secretly praying for a carling cup or europa league berth. Thats how much jealous our success has generated.......

  • Comment number 72.

    @4.At 11:47 14th Mar 2012, bittercityblues wrote:

    "How can you say a mid table La Liga team is technically superior to the best English team in the last 20 years"

    Simple, because they are. They played Manchester United off the park at Old Trafford last week.

  • Comment number 73.

    If Welbeck plays utd lose. If hernandez plays utd win.

  • Comment number 74.

    #69 eduard_streltsov_ghost

    If Wolves don't get hammered by utd on sunday then we don't deserve to win the league, they have been awful under Connor.
    Their defending was awful under Mccarthy! Really does look like schoolboy stuff. Man U may get double figures!

    p.s. Wolves at Man U remind me of something I thought last night. Will Everton be fined by the league for fielding a 'weakened' team against Liverpool last night?

  • Comment number 75.


    Yeh, their games against Barca and Real are obviously going to be big games.

    But with the La Liga duopoly, neither of those matches are going to have a direct impact on Bilcao's chance of silverware.

    Unlike the away leg of a EL last-16 knockout tie. Which will. It's got nothing to do with the fact it's vs United.

    Similarly, when their Copa Del Rey final against Barca comes round, that will supplant the EL last-16 as their biggest game. As will any subsequent knockout rounds of the EL.

    Just logical really. Don't know why you're trying to read 'arrogance' into it.

  • Comment number 76.


    The pessimistic in me, is thinking about the Blackburn defeat (that was a strange bench that day, with the likes of Fryers, Will Keane, little Cole, Pogba) but ditto, we should be punishing Wolves if they turn up with the same sort of performances they have done under TC and McCarthy this season.

  • Comment number 77.

    #72 It wasnt me A big boy did it and ran away

    team is technically superior
    People often throw that sort of idea about. Can anyone define what is technically superior.

  • Comment number 78.

    I'm expecting a very entertaining game again and I wouldn't be surprised to see a 3-2 scoreline again. It's going to be weird seeing no English teams in the quaters of either the Champions League or Europa league.

  • Comment number 79.


    I would define it simply as when an Athletic player got the ball he had time and space when a typical premiership player gets the ball he is not in space nor does he seem to have time.

    I do believe the Spanish league is moving past us, not that i would swap our for their league ever but our players don't seem to move into space like the Spanish lot do.

    It seems a simple thing but it really grated me during the game. We pass and then don't move. The only players in the United team who always seems to have time is Rooney and Scholes

  • Comment number 80.

    La liga is technically superior to the EPL. Bilboa will win.

  • Comment number 81.

    74.At 13:25 14th Mar 2012, MrBlueBurns wrote:

    They've changed the rules so you're allowed to pick players from your 25 man squad. Bit pointless having the 25 man squad registration if you can't freely choose from it. Think that was the sentiment from Ian Holloway last season.

    Wolves seemed to be up for the big games under Mccarthy, but I wonder whether Connor can get that out of them? They looked really poor v Fulham, and against Blackburn.

    Predictions for tonight?

  • Comment number 82.

    @54.At 12:52 14th Mar 2012, brooksy wrote:

    "Punt and kick at Anfield? Clearly you weren't watching the game properly"

    Admittedly, I only saw the last ten minutes but punt and kick certainly describes what I was looking at.

  • Comment number 83.

    @77 mrblueburns

    technically superior= better ball retention through better positioning.

  • Comment number 84.

    76.At 13:29 14th Mar 2012, 11_Giggsy_11_dont_save_606 wrote:

    The pessimistic in me, is thinking about the Blackburn defeat (that was a strange bench that day, with the likes of Fryers, Will Keane, little Cole, Pogba) but ditto, we should be punishing Wolves if they turn up with the same sort of performances they have done under TC and McCarthy this season.

    But I remember seeing the first team and there was no balance there, Fergie might as well have stuck rooney in goal and kucszack wide right it was that much of a random first team.

    Obviously they shouldn't think they'll win by turning up, but they shouldn't have to break sweat.

  • Comment number 85.

    #81 eduard_streltsov_ghost

    Predictions for tonight?
    Heart says yes.

    Head has doubts.

  • Comment number 86.

    There are 3 teams I follow in football today, Man Utd, Barcelona and Athletic. I was there at Old Trafford last Thursday sitting on first row. Before the game I came accross Athletic fans (I'm from Ecuador, hence I follow Utd because of Valencia) I told them clearly that Athletic was going to win it 1-3. I know from watching both sides what they are capable of, and I knew exactly the outcome, Utd would get flooded in midfield and outplayed and when I saw the first team sheet that night I thought it would be even more. If you like to watch football then Athletic is the team to watch, when things go their way, and I say this is about 7 out of 10 games is great, they score and concede. Its a bit like Barcelona, they play a type of game that leaves the defence too vulnerable for counter attacks. This is when Man Utd needs to take it, Carrick needs to be enlightened feeding balls to Valencia. At the state in which Wolves are at the moment, sadly to say, I think SAF can field his best team, but he is a caucious old man and I have to say that United will loose in San Mames, specially with their 12th man, their fans.

  • Comment number 87.

    83.At 13:38 14th Mar 2012, simon wrote:
    @77 mrblueburns

    technically superior= better ball retention through better positioning.

    Isn't that tactically superior? Since you're making use of the space and positioning.

    Technique to me implies your use of the ball, ie heading, shooting, passing, dribbling, tackling, ball control etc

  • Comment number 88.

    Can they win the tie : Undoubtedly
    Would they rather lose the tie and win the league: Of course

    Collecting League wins and stopping City will count for more at Utd than any UEFA Cup.

  • Comment number 89.

    #87 eduard_streltsov_ghost

    Technique to me implies your use of the ball, ie heading, shooting, passing, dribbling, tackling, ball control etc
    That's rather what I always thought as well.

    My other point was how someone quite sweepingly just say A is technically superior to B. Largely just an opinion.

  • Comment number 90.

    "despite the critiscism evans has played "ok" and looked quite solid with Rio."
    Terry has spent his entire career looking ok thanks to Rio :)

    "They played Manchester United off the park at Old Trafford last week."
    They wanted it more. It is, with respect, the biggest game of their season so far. Playing Real and Barca is great, but they don't have a realistic chance of winning that two horse race.

    Catching and now keeping ahead of City is more important, hence the team that was put out and the lacklustre performance. Yes, Bilbao looked good, but - and to get all No Fear on you - its not about the size of the dog in the fight, more the size of the fight in the dog.

    I am still disgusted with Rafael though. I've never ever seen a footballer not interested in going to the ball, let alone a defender. My brain almost burst.

  • Comment number 91.

    @79.At 13:34 14th Mar 2012, wirral18 wrote:

    "I would define it simply as when an Athletic player got the ball he had time and space when a typical premiership player gets the ball he is not in space nor does he seem to have time"

    What I would add to that is that the Athletic players are much more adept at getting the ball under control and have not only a greater passing accuracy but consistently choose better passes to begin with.

  • Comment number 92.

    85.At 13:40 14th Mar 2012, MrBlueBurns wrote:

    You saw my predictions yesterday when I misread and posted them instead of a Liv - Eve one! D'oh. I stand by the prediction.

  • Comment number 93.

    Ferguson may be saying the right things. But like the fans he isn't fussed about the Europa League.

    Thats why he is rotating so much. Ferguson would like to win the Europa league but not to the detriment of the EPL. Utd team last week was makeshift to say the least. Giggs and Jones have never played together in centre mid before. Smalling and Evans at Centre half likewise.

    The team may look decent on paper but they have played together very little and it showed.

    Interesting that Ferdinand, Scholes, Nani etc were rested. Its because Ferguson wants the EPL as do the fans. Utds best 1st team beats Bilbao over 2 legs 9 times out of 10. its a simple case of a made up team not being used to playing with each other.

    Another case of ABU i'm afraid. They'll be gutted if we win the league again.

  • Comment number 94.

    #92 eduard_streltsov_ghost

    From memory, it was 1-0 with something dodgy stopping us getting the second. Well, more often than not there is an element of farce to us going out of Europe!

  • Comment number 95.

    89.At 13:47 14th Mar 2012, MrBlueBurns wrote:

    I'd probably say that technically, EPL & LL would be fairly similar.

    Tactically I'd say LL is better. Combined with the technique it's clear the difference in football styles. There's as much (if not more) technique in making an accurate 40 yard pass as there is a 6 yard pass, the difference is having the tactical awareness to anticipate where the player is moving to pass to, and from the player to be aware where he needs to run to and make space for himself.

    If you have tactically astute players, you can have an effective long ball / direct style of football. The problem is that you don't have that. Utd are probably the closest to that.

  • Comment number 96.

    technically superior means with better technical skills. i.e. they can control, pass and dribble better.

    Which is patently not true of Bilbao over United i'm afraid.

    (PS time limited posting still? Seriously? considering the state of the Nulty blog, the horse is already 100 miles away.)

  • Comment number 97.

    United may have enough quality to progress through to the next round. They were beaten by the better team first time around, and at times that happens. No team is Infallible, even the mighty barca have been beaten by 'lesser teams' this season. The fact that Bilbao played with so much verve and energy is in complete contrast to the team they were a year ago. I heard a Spanish commentator liken them last season to 'spains stoke' , but a new coach and new ethos have turned their fortunes around and they are now clearly a different prospect. . Its going to be tough especially when you take into account the away goals. For some illogical reason I fancy Chelsea more to progress this evening in the CL than I do UTD in the Europa, however I have been drinking......

  • Comment number 98.


    I should have really turned over to be honest but seeing we were all treated to an in depth blog on the genius of moyes, and how he likely to be af's successor, and bearing in mind how he puts out " resilient teams " and everton are " hard to play against " blah blah blah " working on a " shoe string budget " blah blah blah blah...

    I thought i would endure the full 90 mins of the game which was for the most part more like a rugby game, with liverpool punting long balls towards the Cart Horse Carrol, hopeing for fortunate rebounds and knock downs etc, when not hoofing the ball high up the park, it was the obligatory square passes and not to mention the back pass to the keeper, who again mostly hoofed the ball upfield towards the Cart Horse Carroll.

    everton were no better ! however they did try to pass it about and keep the ball to feet, to no avail, their defence was woeful and it seems in the end all the hype surrounding this fixture was indeed, nothing but hype.

    The punditry from souness and the other geezer was dire.

    all in all you made the correct choice in only suffering 10 mins of the game.

    it exposed the serious gulf that is now emerging between also-rans liverpool and the class that is Arsenal.

  • Comment number 99.

    @90.At 13:49 14th Mar 2012, GenesisRed wrote:

    "They wanted it more. It is, with respect, the biggest game of their season so far. Playing Real and Barca is great, but they don't have a realistic chance of winning that two horse race"

    You mean just like Chelsea and Arsenal have no chance of winning the EPL?

  • Comment number 100.

    This is UEFA CUP,it is not premier league where the likes of Webb helps them to win,MAN U is in for a big surprise.Bilbao will win comfortably.


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