Spotlight on Athletic Club: Los Leones eye the Camp Nou

Alexis vs Athletic Club
Athletic Club Bilbao are a club with a storied and rich history. Even though they’re four points away from the relegation zone, they should never be underestimated

Athletic Club has its roots in shipyards and mines of Bilbao, the industrial heart of the Basque country. In the early 1890s, British laborers in the ports and mines of the Basque city founded Bilbao Football Club, which laid the ground work for Athletic Club Bilbao founded in 1898 by a group of Basque students returning from England.

Athletic Club Bilbao’s popularity grew rapidly in the years after its founding, prompting club officials to commission the building of Estadio San Mamés, which opened in 1913. The new stadium derives its name from the church it was built next to, the church of Saint Mammes (or San Mamés, in Spanish). Estadio San Mamés is also known as La Catedral (The Cathedral) for its proximity to the church.

Atheltic Club Bilbao are also affectionately known as Los Leones (The Lions). The nickname comes from the aforementioned saint, who was thrown to the lions by the Romans sometime before 275 CE. The lions didn’t fancy Mammes, and they refused to eat him. Mammes was given sainthood for his efforts. While the Los Leones’ nickname seems to be borne out of circumstance, it’s certainly appropriate.

In its 114-year history, Atheltic Club Bilbao have devoured their competition to take the Spanish League title eight times and the Copa del Rey 23 times. All this by only fielding Basque, or Basque connected players.

Form Guide and boss

Last year stands in stark contrast to Los Leones’ current run in the 2012/13 season. The Basque team managed to reach the championship match in both the Copa del Rey and the Europa League last year, but this season the men led by Marcelo Bielsa are struggling. Athletic Club are hovering four points above the relegation zone with 15 points from 13 games. Of their last three La Liga matches, they defeated Sevilla (2-1), but lost to Real Madrid (5-1) and tied with Deportivo (1-1).

Despite their struggles this season, Bielsa’s Athletic Club cannot be underestimated. The Argentine manager traded in the team’s smash-and-grab, almost British style of play for a fast-paced, technical and incisive approach since his arrival in 2011. This approach nearly took Athletic Club to European glory last year when they reached the title match of the Europa League (leaving Manchester United and Schalke in the dust), but they lost to Atlético Madrid in the final.

Ones to watch

Like FC Barcelona, Athletic Club have a plethora of young talent to draw from for their senior side. Fernando Llorente seems to be back in Bielsa’s good graces and it’s likely that he’ll make an appearance at the Camp Nou on Saturday. In addition to the Athletic’s big man, Iker Muniain, De Marcos, Aduriz, and Susaeta are all very talented players and they can undoubtedly cause problems to any side, especially one that’s hell-bent on going forward.