Bilbao represents something of a La Liga paradox for me. On the one hand, their Basque-only (or nearly Basque-only) roster policy is, in my opinion, one of the most ballsy, bad-ass moves in the European game, and represents the polar opposite to the Reals and Chelseas of the world. For those of you who don’t know, these guys have since the beginning only signed people from the Basque territory (although in more recent times they’ve expanded this to include people who grew up in a Basque club’s cantera system). In today’s world, that should be the sort of thing you admire but ultimately fault a third division team for (if you’d ever heard of them) because of how they’re only hurting themselves with some probably misguided separatist bullshit. But Bilbao is not a third division team, and in fact along with Real and Barcelona are in the 3-member club of teams who’ve never been relegated in their entire existence. So what they do is both morally laudable and phenomenally successful. They ought to be one of my favorite teams in the league.
On the other hand, though, ugh these guys play so physically, and foul so ruthlessly, and are so unapologetic about the cheaterpants way they pretend they’re not doing anything wrong AND THEN PRETEND TO BE HURT IF THEY NEED TO WASTE TIME that I don’t think I’ve ever watched them play against Sevilla without wishing the field would open up and swallow at least half the team into their eternal fiery end.
So I’m conflicted about them, as I say. Regardless of all of that, though, tomorrow they come to our house one spot and one point below us in the table, with one of the most in-form strikers in Spain, and still fresh from their international break (with no mid-week game).
We, on the other hand, are still without Navas (although to be honest I’d rather he not play a team of ankle-breakers as his first game back). Also missing will be Zokora, our mountain of man-rock-steel alloy, who is out with an intestinal problem. This is not the sort of game you want to have your best midfield destroyer missing, to say the least. Cigarini is ALSO out, so our next-best option for that role (IMO) will be missing as well. Happily, though, we get Capel and Renato back, so I guess that’s good. Not that Capel plays a lot or Renato is going to magically fill that attacking mid lack we’ve talking about recently, but it can’t be BAD that they’re back. Here’s our game day roster:
Palop, Varas, Cáceres, Aléxis, Escudé, Dabo, Fernando Navarro, Romaric, Perotti, Luis Fabiano, Renato, Kanouté, Alfaro, Capel, Negredo, Konko, Guarente y José Carlos.
Anyway, this game is high both on the difficulty and importance meters. I’d love to see us claim all three points but have to say a draw would be a decent (and more likely) result for us. What do you guys think–what result are you hoping for, what formation do you expect, who will start? What other burning questions should be addressed? The comments section is waiting for you to fill it up!