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Valverde’s Athletic Club de Bilbao

The revelation of La Liga Santander this season has been Athletic Club. The Bilbao team under Ernesto Valverde have made a fantastic start to the league, maintaining the characteristic essence of their vertical play, while at the same time being even more complete with the new ideas that Txingurri has brought to the team.

Therefore, at the MBP School of Coaches, we are going to highlight in which collective and individual aspects the Bilbao team have excelled in in their start to the new season.

Tactical Analysis of Athletic Club

The first aspect we would like to highlight about Valverde’s work in Bilbao is the tactical organization he has given to the team. Unlike past seasons where Bilbao had a GK-4-4-2 structure, the Lions are now adopting a GK-4-3-3 as their base structure.

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Within the new dynamic organisation imposed by Valverde, there are certain key general principles for the proper collective functioning of the side. The first of these refers to the importance of maintaining maximum width and depth in the offensive phase of the game.

For this, the role of the wingers is vital, as they are in charge of guaranteeing both general principles, thus generating inside spaces for second-line arrivals from Sancet or Muniain.

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Another of the more important collective behaviours of the team has been an introduction to a more associative approach to their play. Despite maintaining their DNA of verticality, the team has increased its possession of the ball, especially in moments of the dynamic build up and in progression.

A fact that demonstrates this new game idea is the importance of players like Oscar de Marcos. The fullback is the one of the players with the highest number of passes in the whole league at this early stage of the season, thus becoming transcendental for his team in this moment of the game.

In the defensive phase, the vertical jumps after losing the ball is a new defensive behavior of the side in the attack-defence transition. Once they lose the ball, Valverde’s players are very aggressive in their pressure on turnovers, jumping vertically to the ball and accumulating a large volume of players in the active zone.

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Thanks to this, and as a result of the high level of it, Athletic have conceded the 3rd lowest goals in the league, and have the second best goal difference.

The third aspect to highlight is the new role of Iñaki Williams in the attacking phase of progression and attacking in the final 3rd. While remaining the key piece of his team to attack the depth and potential opposition defensive imbalances, the striker has a much more active participation in the dynamic play of his side through the application of different individual striker fundamentals such as ‘providing support for continuity’ and ‘offering support as a second line’.

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Thanks to the application of both fundamentals, Williams allows his team to have different passing lines and generate a more dynamic play in both moments of the game. Likewise, from his mobility, he has been able to create free spaces that can perfectly exploited by teammates.

Similar to his teammate, Iker Muniain has played a significant role in the team’s form. Gone is the winger who tended to occupy the central channel. The current captain of Bilbao is now a 100% orchestrator midfielder, capable of setting the tempo of his team in the attacking phase.

As can be seen in the following images, the No. 10 is always close to the location of the ball. Through the application of the universal collective fundamentals of ‘searching for a game in progression by assessing the risk/benefit of the passes’ and ‘directing the play towards favorable spaces/switching the play’ among others, Muniain has managed to give direction and cohesion to each of his team’s attacks.

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The good collective and individual performance have propelled Athletic Club to the highest positions in the table. As we have been able to explain during the analysis, the arrival of Ernesto Valverde is making a team that has been ruled by a tactical rigidity for years even more complete.

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