Athletic Club de Bilbao head towards the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Andalucía this Sunday to face Granada.
The Los Leones are unbeaten in their last seven outings. They have five wins on the bounce with fifteen goals in that period. They play with the pace and vigour they’ve become renowned for.
They are La Liga’s in-form team, may I add.
Athletic, following a rough ending to September, have crept up the table and currently lie in eighth place heading into this weekend’s round of fixtures.
Ernesto Valverde, who guided the club to Super Cup glory over Barcelona in August, seems to have found that missing ingredient.
His name is Iñaki Williams.
Despite making a handful of appearances last year, he’s burst onto the scene with some scintillating performances this season. The twenty-one year old has six goals in nine games whilst demonstrating some real potential playing both on the wing and centrally for Athletic.
Despite his father being of Ghanaian origin and his mother of Liberian, he qualifies for Athletic’s la cantera policy having been born in the region.
This policy sets them aside in the modern game. They stand defiantly and face the powers that wish to change. La cantera goes against the grain of commercialised-squeezing that consists at most European giants.
It may hold them back from once again becoming a powerhouse of the game, but they are happily set in their ways.
Iñaki has provided the spark for Athletic whilst veteran striker, Artiz Aduriz, leads the line in true la furia style.
Thirty-four year old Aduriz, who scored a hat-trick during the Super Cup win in August, has fifteen goals in as many games this season. He has provided five assists along the way as well – proving he brings an all-round game to leading the line.
Beñat – notoriously known for lacking pace – orchestrates the team in the middle of the field. He keeps the ball ticking over whilst averaging two interceptions and tackles per game, according to whoscored.com. His set-piece prowess gives Athletic an extra weapon in their armoury. He has two goals and four assists in all competitions.
They have ever-present stalwarts such as Aymeric Laporte and Mikel San José at the back. The former provides the calmness, whilst the latter provides grit.
These players make up the backbone of a team who are looking upwards – not downwards.
When Athletic Club get ahead of steam, the region goes into frenzy. I witnessed this first-hand in 2012 when Los Leones knocked Manchester United out of the UEFA Europa League at La Catedral.
Red and white scarves dangled along the cobbled Basque streets. The locals go into true festival mode with their kalimotxos and local music.
Ernesto Valverde will be hoping that scenes like those and the type he witnessed in August when winning the Super Cup become normality – as they once were in the distant past.