Bielsa, Tactical Genius or Hobbit? Athletic – Barça

Liga Preview: Athletic Bilbao – Barcelona, ESPN Deportes/

Bilbo Baggins was fond of many games and activities. He was especially fond of hiding in semi-obscurity until something important came his way. That important thing is Lionel Messi on a tear, but it’s also Marcelo Bielsa and the possibility of being an attacking side. It may be unfair to turn on Joaquin Caparros and his system that earned a Europa League spot, but people are doing it anyway despite Bielsa’s adoption of the same system.

My brother and I are here to discuss the tactical innovations Bielsa has implemented:

Isaiah: I think he’ll go with a 4-2-3-1. It’s just smarter.

Isaaac: I disagree. They will use the nickle formation. They’ll be better able to play in space.

Isaiah: That’s ridiculous. If they wanted to cover the over-the-top balls, they would obviously deploy–that was not an LSU interception! Are you crazy?

Isaac: He didn’t possess all the way through the play. Obviously that’s a goal.

Isaiah: You mean a touchgoal.

Isaac: Well, when you put a knuckleballer up against a 1-3-1 zone, you’d better expect fireworks.

Isaiah: Do you know what sport we’re talking about?

Isaac: Look, Bilboners are not clay courters. If you want a level playing field, you’d better stop playing these games at the base of the Pyrennes. That place is full of sand traps!

Isaiah: Fernando Llorente is a really good striker, how will Barcelona deal with him?

Isaac: A combination of quick wits and a safety blitz.

Isaiah: Oh, you’re gunning for offsides penalties. That’s pretty brilliant.

Isaac: One time I talked to a soccer coach about tactics for 3 hours. It was incredibly useful to have the One True Ring of Power to escape his blathering unseen. Seriously, a 4-3-2-1? Goddammit, man, those are just descending numbers.

Isaiah: Wow, I’ve never thought about it like that before. It’s a wonder anyone has ever won a World Cup.

Isaac: Well, not really, after 1970 came 1974 and, let’s be honest, the tactical innovation there was obvious.

Isaiah: Getting back to Athletic, what do you think of Basque culture? Does it impact their game play?


Isaiah: Well, yeah, but I meant–


Isaiah: They are really good, aren’t they?

Isaac: I bought a liter of wine in Pamplona for one euro. Bilbao is in Basque country. I’m assuming they have regional wine prices. And honestly, wine at a sporting event? Yes, please!

Isaiah: What does that have to do with Athletic?

Isaac: They have great fan support. Now you know why.

Isaiah: Okay, it’s obvious you know a lot about this sport. Can we get a final prediction?

Isaac: Ohio State 34 – Athletic Bilbao 17.

Isaiah: You do know there’s not a 3 point line, right?

Isaac: No, I don’t.

Isaiah: And wait, OSU isn’t in this game!


Isaiah: Neither of those are appropriate right now.


Isaiah: Okay, thanks, that’s all we’ll be needing–

Isaac: Visca el Ohio State!

Isaiah: Well…okay, sure. Yes. Visca el Ohio State.

And there you have it, folks, from the greatest sports mind I’ve ever been embarrassed to be related to. I mean, wait, stop hitting me, that’s not fair I’m typing!

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Isaiah is a co-founder and lead writer for Barcelona Football Blog. He currently lives in Germany with his wife and daughter.


  1. adopted cule
    November 5, 2011

    Not sure why, but I loved this article. (It absolutely was a LSU interception under current rules.) Just got back from the hospital yesterday with a healthy baby girl (and healthy mom) and happy to return to such a whimsical piece. Thanks Isaiah (and Isaac).

  2. BarcaOwl
    November 6, 2011

    Congratulations to both of you! May your daughter grow up healthy, happy and beautiful. 🙂

  3. Helge
    November 6, 2011

    Hey Isaiah,
    I’ve posted a link to an, in my opinion, really good statistics website in the last article. Check it out, if you want 😉

    The match will be akin to the waterball match we’ve once played in Malaga, if I remember correctly. Yesterday it has rained 110mm in Bilbao, and today another 50mm are expected!
    That is crazy, where I live 40mm a day is already considered a severe cloudburst. And our garden was flooded after such a rain^^

  4. mom4
    November 6, 2011

    Sadly, that made complete sense, Isaiah! And it highlights the whole multiple-personality-disorder plight from which we Americans who follow both types of football every weekend suffer.

    Touchdowns by Messi, Alexis and Abi(our Athletic specialist), field goal by Xavi. All of our extra points are taken by Messi and are through the uprights but rather low and to the right. Barca wins 0-24. Andres Iniesta destroys the ring of power through sheer awesomness and by using that glowy-thing he does with his hands. ( ) Messi and Villa are best buds on the pitch and are filmed playing parcheesi togather in the tunnel before the match for PR purposes. Cesc’s hair looks worse. Fontas sits in the stands…again (but really, this game he should anyway). I’m reasonably certain about one or two of these predictions.

    The Baltimore Ravens remember how to play football again and beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh 0-3 (Ray Rice 2, Anquan Boldin(pen.)). Ray Lewis and Haloti Ngata make Ben Roethlisberger cry for his mamma several times during the game. Troy Palamalu inspires Cesc to grow out his hair even more.

  5. November 6, 2011

    I had no idea what half the stuff in this post was. Then again all I know about American football is that touchdowns happen when you run across the pitch and smack the ball down over a line at the end, and that a touchdown is like a really big deal and you’re a hero when you score them, which is what I pick up from seeing high school series and movies.

    So Madrid won 7-1. Ronaldo hat-trick, Benzema brace. Who’s surprised?

    • Helge
      November 6, 2011

      One penalty, another 3 goals after the penalty which was also followed by a sending-off.
      Until that moment, Osasuna actually had their moments and I think without the penalty and sending-off, they would not have lost by more than 2 goals^^

      I fear Messi might try too hard to score today, knowing that CR scored another hattrick. But Messi has never scored @ San Mames.
      Then the horrible pitch conditions with 160liters of rain per square meter… I could think of better omens for this tough match 🙂

    • mom4
      November 6, 2011

      Osasuna scored, cool!

      This is the team we destroyed 8-0, right? So I, like Honey badger don’t care!

      But yeah, I would be nice for Leo to regain the Pichichi lead again. I hope he doesn’t try too hard.

      • Jim
        November 6, 2011

        Yeah. I watched the game but I can’t make up my mind what to think of this Madrid team. They are playing a little more of a passing game, they are taking their chances and they are definitely fighting to get the ball back more quickly. All improvements.

        Yet if they can’t get at least 40% of possession against us they will have to do more with less. Can they do that? Also, you can’t see Pepe and Ramos finishing a game of 90 minutes against Messi.

        Should be interesting. We’ll need a full Xaviniesta performance for that one.

  6. nzm
    November 6, 2011

    Ha – funny read!

    Isaiah – you really have to educate Isaac about it being pintxos in the Basque country, not tapas! 🙂

  7. November 6, 2011

    In case anyone missed this tidbit out of the Guardiola presser the other day, he said that Cuenca will be staying with the first team until further notice, though it isn’t an official promotion …. yet. Probably won’t happen this season, but should over the summer, particularly after we sell a healed Afellay.

    • blitzen
      November 6, 2011

      Also, Cuenca got his first international call-up with the U-21 team. Guess Luis Milla wants to see for himself what all the fuss is about. This boy is living the dream.

      But do you really think we will sell Afellay? He deserves a chance, surely? 🙁

      • November 6, 2011

        I do think we will sell him in the summer window. The emergence of Cuenca, the existence of Pedro, and arrivals of Fabregas and Sanchez make 3M extravagantly expendable.

        • Xingxian
          November 6, 2011

          I suppose part of the equation might be how eager/willing he is to stay a squad member?

        • November 6, 2011

          It will be really sad to see Afellay go, but I agree, it probably makes the most sense when you consider the interests of the player and the development of others in the squad. Really sad when/if it happens though, because he has been nothing but professional and hard working, not to mention talented.

      • Helge
        November 6, 2011

        I think Kxevin’s assumption is right.

        Mind you, Afellay will be 26 next summer. He’s not a kid anymore, and all of his challengers are 3 or more years younger than him.
        In his own best interests, he should leave.
        I like Afellay, and I still believe in his potential, but with the upcoming talents and already available talents, this is simply not the right club for him anymore.

  8. The__K__Man
    November 6, 2011

    I don’t get all the American Football talk. But I’m more than nervous about this match. Playing at the San Mames when we’re 4 points behind Madrid ain’t cool at all.

  9. Jackieboy
    November 6, 2011

    Think the rain might stop Pep from fielding Alexis – his muscle is probably not ready for this sort of pitch.

  10. Jackieboy
    November 6, 2011

    Yep, no Alexis.

    Barça starting XI Valdés, Dani Alves, Piqué, Fàbregas, Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Mascherano, Busquets, Adriano and Abidal

    • footballfan
      November 6, 2011

      Means Iniesta is on the wing 🙁

      • Helge
        November 6, 2011

        Or Fabregas in a more attacking role next to Messi, and a midfield of Xaviniesta Busquets.

        • Miguel
          November 6, 2011

          Adriano, Cesc, & Messi up top. Well done, Pep. I knew Keita wasn’t gonna start.

      • Jim
        November 6, 2011

        Noooo !! Come on Pep. Rest him for a couple of matches then stick him out there? Hopefully not.

        Interesting Villa isn’t starting. Is that not a rather defensive ( not the right word) lineup? Where are the forwards coming from or are we aiming ultimately for a team with no defenders or forwards? I reckon Villa is okay with rotation and no problem with Messi but if he is regularly benched there might be soon. Hope it is a rest.

        This’ll be interesting – Pep will have some idea up his sleeve.

      • Jim
        November 6, 2011

        Noooo !! Come on Pep. Rest him for a couple of matches then stick him out there? Hopefully not.

        Interesting Villa isn’t. starting. Is that not a rather defensive ( not the right word) lineup? Where are the forwards coming from or are we aiming ultimately for a team with no defenders or forwards? I reckon Villa is okay with rotation and no problem with Messi but if he is regularly benched there might be soon. Hope it is a rest.

        This’ll be interesting – Pep will have some idea up his sleeve.

        • Jackieboy
          November 6, 2011

          Villa has been poor throughout the whole season, no reason not to bench him once in a while. Cuenca not even on the bench though :/

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