(FM22) The Quest #11 – 2031/32 Season Review – Athletic Bilbao

Welcome back! My first full season at Bilbao is over, it’s been tough, especially in the transfer market but it’s also been great fun, having to work with a smaller pool of players and also having to blood some of the younger lads into a side where everyone expects us to qualify for Europe has been a huge challenge, but an interesting and exciting challenge! So let’s see how it went!

Transfers

In the Summer I didn’t let anyone leave, the squad wasn’t massive, I had to bring in quite a few youth players to bulk out the squad so no one could leave. That did change in the Winter as players started to moan and 2 players left. DM Turrientes left to join Norwich for £21.5m and Left Back Txema Diaz, who only joined last Winter left for £6.5m to join RB Salzburg, he only cost us £1m so a tidy profit.

The main areas I wanted to improve was in defence and also in attacking midfield, I had plans to either play a 4231 or a diamond 41212 but we had no decent AM’s at all. So please welcome….

Javier Felipe – Central Defence/Defensive Midfield – £475k from Osasuna

One for the future here, only 15 years old but highly rated, the pool of players, as I mentioned earlier, is very small but I feel this lad could become a first team squad player with the right training and mentoring over the next couple of seasons.

Alain Kortazar – Attacking Midfield – £15m from Newcastle

Desparation got the better of me here, as I got to deadline day I still didn’t have a decent AM, this lad had been on my radar for a while, did I overpay? Yes, but I do feel he looks good and is only 21 so has many years ahead of him.

Aymeric Laporte – Central Defence – £8.5m from Juventus

Going totally against the policy of signing under 23’s, in comes 37-year old Laporte! What a signing though!!! He still looks top drawer and will go straight into my first XI.

Roberto Marco – Central Defence/Full Back – £2.6m from Getafe

Brought in as he can play anywhere across the back-line. Mainly a centre back, he looks pretty decent and will add some depth in the defensive area.

I made one signing in the Winter and it was a really good one.

Urko Diez – Attacking Midfield – £15m from Manchester United

What a player! A low fee for someone who looks top quality, he will go straight in as my main AM. By this point I was playing a 41212 so he will slot in nicely as a Shadow Striker.

Some good signings and the squad is set. The board expect qualification for the Europa League via La Liga which is top 6, I want top 4!

Europa League

But first, Europe and it started really well. We had a decent draw with Feyernoord, CSKA and Standard Liege in our group. We started with 4 wins out of 4 to guarantee us qualification for the knockouts, I then played the kids and we drew and lost our final 2 games, it didn’t matter though, we had already topped out group.

As we had won the group we went straight into the 2nd knockout round and we faced Hertha Berlin….it did not go well!

A decent draw away from home but in the 2nd leg we played awful to be dumped out 3-2 on aggregate. Really frustrating!

Copa del Rey

I really felt we had a decent chance of getting deep into this competition but I did want to play some of the players who weren’t featuring much in the league and Europe, somehow we scraped our way to the Quarter Finals!

As you can see we really did scrape it! Extra time wins in Round 1 and 2 against lower league sides before we beat Ibiza on penalties. We then demolished fellow La Liga side Levante to get to the last 8.

Where we faced Real Madrid at home and it was an epic!

Real took the lead after 16 mins but we grabbed an equaliser right on half time, we then went to sleep and they went straight up the other end to take a 2-1 lead. In the second half we scored just before the hour mark and it looked to be going to extra time before Balogun scored for Real in the 91st to nab the win and dump us out 3-2! Gutting!

La Liga

Now to the League, Europe and top 6 was a must but we started poorly. 2 defeats in our opening 4 games was awful and the inconsistent form continued right through September and October. We would win 1, then lose 1. November ended with us only winning 1 game from 4 but we were unbeaten. December ended unbeaten as well with another 7 points and as the year ended we sat in 5th, it was incredibly tight though.

Into the New Year and the inconstent form continued, we were however winning more than we were losing or drawing. February was amazing as we won 4 of our 5 games with only 1 defeat, by now we were well within a shout of top 4!

March ended with 2 wins from 3 before 3 wins from 4 in April. Form had picked up and as we entered May we sat in 3rd place with 4 games to go, all we had to do was not screw up. May ended amazingly as we won 3 of our 4 games with 10 points gained, what an end!

A really good final few games of the season, 6 wins from our final 7 games and we had sealed top 4 and with that Champions League football next season.

Really really pleasing but just look at the top, Real Sociedad won the league! They were incredible and at one point were 15 points clear!! The end 11 clear of Real Madrid, stunning!

Key Men

It was an amazing season for 33-year old Winger Jan Morcillo, with me switching to a 41212 he went and played up front and if anything played even better! He ends as the clubs player of the year and also ends with the most assists and highest average rating at the club. 39 starts, 21 goals, 19 assists and 7.6 rating! Amazing!

22-year old star Jon Uriarte ended as the clubs young player of the season, it was a fantastic season for the centre back who seemed to excel alongside Laporte. He is now being touted for a big money move to England’s elite!

Striker Jon Karrikaburu ends as the clubs top scorer, last season he played second fiddle to Pacheco but this season took his spot up front and alongside Morcillo was incredible. He ends with 31 goals from 42 starts with 21 from 32 in the League.

And here for your perusal is the whole squad.

Intake

Something I am really going to have to rely on, because our pool of players to bring in is so small, is the youth intakes and this season there are a couple of players who have taken the eye.

Txema Garde – Central Defence/Defensive Midfield

Wow! Absolutely incredible for a 15-year old. 2 star rated already and overall he looks really good, my only issue with him is his determination but hopefully him being mentored by Laporte will help that. I actually played him in the final game of the season as DM and he played well getting a rating of 7.3 with 1 assists and 5 key passes! Not bad!

Endike Goikoetxea – Central Midfield

Another lad who already looks really good. 20 for determination, good physicals, 6 foot and good heading, if I can get his finishing up I may switch him and train him as a striker.

Inaki Telletxea – Right Wing

Again, amazing for a kid! His mental are stunning, he also has high natural fitness, good first touch and passing but for a wide man he needs to improve his pace and acceleration and also his crossing/dribbling.

The future is bright!

Next Season

So now I look forward to next season, Champions League football beckons and with that some extra revenue to come in. Squad wise I’m pretty happy, this squad over-achieved this season getting us into 3rd but I do think, if I keep this squad together we can once again challenge for the top 4.

Obviously players are going to leave, the board want players to go for a profit, so the likes of Uriarte, Blasco, Morcillo and many more are be linked with big moves. We have so many players wanted but they won’t leave for cheap!

So who comes in will depend on who leaves. Like I’ve said many times in this post, the pool of players to bring in is pretty small so the offers are going to have to be really enticing and something I cannot say no to because, really and truly, whoever comes in won’t be as good unless a worldie Basque player pops up and there aren’t that many that are interested or as good/better than what we currently have.

The board have given me £20m to spend anyway so if a player comes up that I want to bring in I have the money there, but overall I’m happy with the squad and we have some quality in the youth/reserve ranks if and when they are needed.

A really pleasing season, let’s hope the next one is just as good.

Thanks for reading

Steve/LutterworthFox

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