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Tactical Analysis

Tactical Analysis: Athletic Bilbao 5-2 Eibar | Bilbao blow away the 4-4-2

Aamer Aslam writes a detailed tactical analysis about Athletic Bilbao’s convincing 5-2 win against Eibar.

Bilbao’s quest for the all important 4th spot had hit a brick wall over the past couple of weeks. While they suffered defeats to Sevilla and champions Barcelona, their opponents on the day – Eibar had impressively leapfrogged them and mounting their own charge for the final Champions league spot.


Line Ups


Athletic: 13. Herrerin; 10. Marcos; 2. Boveda; 4. Laporte; 24. Balenziaga; 6. Jose; 7. Benat; 14. Susaeta; 19. Muniain; 25. Sabin; 20. Aduriz

Eibar: 13. Riesgo; 7. Capa; 16. Santos; 4. Ramis; 17. Junca; 20. Keko; 14. Garcia; 24. Adrian; 21. Berjon; 9. Enrich; 18. Baston.

Despite being relegated the last time they were in this division, Eibar have been impressive this season. Solid would be the more appropriate word. Borja Baston, the young striker on loan from Atletico has 14 Liga goals just two short of Cristiano Ronaldo while Escalante and Dani Garcia have formed a solid midfield base. Playing a 4-4-2 more often than not (due to the form of Borja Baston), they have excelled against similar opposition but struggled against top quality sides. Against Bilbao it proved no different.

Bilbao played with a double pivot in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Benat and San Jose. Iker Muniain occupied the space just ahead of them. The extra man in midfield was always going to create problems for Eibar. But after the thrashing of Granada (5-1) the previous week, Eibar were in no mood to adjust their system to the opposition. Mendilibar also bought in the attacking Adrian in place of the more defensive Escalante alongside Dani Garcia in their own midfield base.

First Half

Eibar set out to close the space or balance the numbers in midfield by asking one of their wide men to shift into the centre (when not in possession) and to drift out wide in possession. Playing away from home, their game plan was to leave at least 2 men up top and release the ball quickly to the wingers when they retrieve the ball. A classic tactic against a team that plays with a very high defensive line. Eibar raced into the lead in the third minute with a brilliantly worked goal. Capa slid in a ball to Sergi Enrich who stepped over the ball to let Borja Baston free on goal to score his 13th of the season.  After having gone a goal up so early, Eibar continued with a 4-4-2 which was surprising considering they were playing away from home.

Athletic soon started making the numbers count. They always had either San Jose or Benat free.

Extra man in midfield

The wingers cutting in also caused problems to Eibars full backs as they were not sure whether to follow them in field or stay out wide. Eibar had a policy of always keeping at least 2 up front to hit them on the break. If one of the strikers dropped deep to cover one of Bilbao’s central midfielders, a winger would take the place up front forming the two.

Screenshot 2 (2)

The picture above clearly shows all that is wrong with the 4-4-2 coming up against a 3 man midfield. Benat received the ball in the centre before driving into the space while Muniain ran in behind. With the Eibar full back occupying Susaeta infield, Oscar de Marcos had acres of space to run into but couldn’t make the most of it this time. This pattern of play meant that at all points of time Keko and Saul, the Eibar wingers had a decision to make – whether to follow De Marcos/Balenziaga up field or stay up front for the counter. The 4-4-2 is a highly reactive system where you are not always in control. The flaws of the 4-4-2 were laid bare by Athletic in the opening 10 minutes.

The equaliser followed soon after, Saul was found waiting for the counter when the ball switched from the opposite flank to acres of open space on the other. Oscar de Marcos again found himself in the same space and delivered a ball into the centre which Aduriz put into the net emphatically. More bad news followed for Eibar as their leader at the back, Ivan Ramis pulled up with a hamstring strain. In addition to coping with the extra man in midfield, Eibar now had to adjust to the centre back pairing.

Screenshot 3 (2)

Athletic continued to take full advantage of the extra man in midfield. Here you can see another instance when Saul drops to cover the space in central midfield and Oscar de Marcos exploits the space out wide.

Screenshot 4 (2)

This time it’s Keko who found himself on the opposite wing leaving Balenziaga free. Eibar were all over the place. Athletic used these spaces indirectly to get into the lead as they went ahead from a corner. A third goal soon followed from a set piece. Eibar were getting picked off at will by a rampant Bilbao side.

Second Half

Mendilibar had enough at the break and brought on Escalante in place of the attacking Adrian to find some sort of balance in midfield but retained the 4-4-2. The coach got the response he wanted as Eibar were back in it as Borja Baston coolly converted a penalty.

Screenshot 5 (1)

The flaws that haunted them in the first half remained as Keko again drifted in to close down Benat who released Balenziaga down the left. Athletic regained their two goal advantage courtesy of Aduriz. Eibar were put out of their misery in the 80’ min as Dos Santos put the ball into the back of his net. Athletic ran out 5-2 winners.


Bilbao are a modern side who play a 4-2-3-1. Play out from the back and press from the front. Against a high energy compact team like Bilbao, it is always advisable to have the same numbers in all areas of the field especially away from home. Eibar, however impressive their form had been, had shown tactical naivety and lack of respect for their opposition. A change in tactics is necessary if they are to pip everybody else to that coveted fourth place.

Written by Aamer Aslam

Aamer Aslam
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