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La Liga 2018-19: Athletic Bilbao's stunning turnaround deserves more recognition

Real Madrid CF v Athletic Club - La Liga
James Reeve
CONTRIBUTOR
Modified 24 May 2019, 14:00 IST
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Athletic Club de Bilbao managed to turn things around under Gaizka Garitano

Athletic Bilbao's stunning turnaround in La Liga this season deserves far more recognition than is currently being given.

Back in December, the Basque club were in turmoil and looked to be heading towards their first-ever relegation from the top tier of Spanish football.

With just one win in their opening 14 games, the historic club found themselves sitting in 18th spot in the league.

As a result, Eduardo Berizzo, who had only taken the manager's role earlier that summer, was sacked on 4th December, with the reserve team boss Gaizka Garitano stepping up to take the reins in the interim.

The task for Garitano was simple - keep the club in La Liga, with Bilbao being just one of the three Spanish clubs (the others being Real Madrid and Barcelona) to have never suffered relegation from the top tier.

Garitano, however, managed to do much more than that.

The Bilbao native signed just two new players in the January transfer window - forwards Ibai Gomez and Kenan Kodro, but it was the performances of the players, who were already with the club, that was most noticeable.

Under Berizzo, Bilbao failed to find the back of the net often enough and couldn't seem to figure out a way to pick up three points, but with Garitano at the helm, things changed very quickly.

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Los Leones' next seven games resulted in an astonishing four wins and three draws - earning the club 15 points out of a possible 21, helping the club to 11th place in La Liga.

After just one win under Berizzo, Athletic Bilbao ended the season with 13 victories and 14 draws that managed to give the club an outside chance of reaching the European qualification places.

The club ended the season in eighth place in the league and narrowly missed out on qualifying for the Europa League - with Espanyol finishing one place above them thanks to better head-to-head results.

Had Bilbao picked up just one more draw this season, the club would've reached the Europa League qualification rounds, having been a favourite for relegation just a few weeks before Christmas.

This turnaround from the club has not received the attention it truly deserves, with Garitano getting his hometown side out of a truly dire situation and leading them eight places higher than last season's 16th-placed finish.

Athletic Bilbao also managed to progress one round further in the Copa Del Rey than last season in what can only be described as a huge success for Garitano.

As a result of his impressive management of the club for the majority of the season, Garitano was handed a one-year contract extension to continue leading the club and see whether or not he is the real deal and can be the true long-term replacement for Ernesto Valverde.

Published 24 May 2019, 14:00 IST
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