2022/23 Season Review:
It all started so well, at the winter break we were undefeated in the league, 10 points clear a the top (15 clear of Madrid/Barca) and playing amazing football. At that stage we wobbled significantly:
As you can see, a terrible run in Jan/Feb in the league saw our lead at the top disappear, both Real Madrid and La Real caught us up. A win against Real just before the big dip helped a lot, but losses to Zaragoza and Sevilla in Jan, followed by draws against Valladolid, Granada, Osasuna, Betis and Valencia certainly put us under the pump. It was always against the defensive 4-1-4-1 and we had to find a way to get through it.
We ended up adopting a deeper 4-4-2 against the 4-1-4-1 and made some headway. With 3 games to go we were in 2nd in the league, a point behind Real Madrid, however Atletico stole a draw against them and we showed some resolve with 3 consecutive come from behind wins to end the season, winning the league by 1 point.
What a campaign! In the second half of the season while we struggled against the 4-1-4-1 in the league, we had more freedom to play in the Champions League and took advantage, winning the biggest trophy for the first time.
Our group gave us a draw of Chelsea, Shakhtar and Freiburg. We got through that group in 1st place and draw Inter Milan in the first knock out round. I was fairly happy with the draw but Inter gave us a very tough time indeed, as they took the lead twice in the first leg at the San Siro, however we came from behind to secure a 3-2 away victory. Back at San Mames they once again took the lead (in the first 2 minutes), but we held firm, got an equaliser and the game finished 1-1, sending us through 4-3 on aggregate.
In the quarter finals we drew Spurs, who are certainly a strong outfit with all of the Premier League money available to them. A 2-0 home win in the first leg put us in a great position, but the second leg was a real emotional rollercoaster. They went 1-0 up inside the first minute and I was definitely nervous, but we responded by scoring 3 in the next 28 minutes to make the tie look very comfortable indeed at a 5-1 aggregate score and 3 away goals. Spurs made it a very nervy affair though as they came back from 3-1 down to end the first half 4-3 in front! We went defensive in the second half and held on to win 5-4 on aggregate.
That gave us a semi final tie against PSG - let's not forget they knocked us out 5-4 on aggregate last year after we were 3-0 up at halftime in the first leg...this game was tasty. The first leg was at the San Mames, and we batter them, except instead of the 1-0 win we got the previous season which saw us lose on aggregate, this time we took our chances. Goals from Villalibre x2, Williams and Isusko Alonso meant we were 4-0 with 2 minutes to go and looking very comfortable indeed as they hadn't caused us too many problems. However the Dane Kaspar Dolberg, who had been our undoing last year snuck in a last minute header to end the game 4-1, which left a bit of a sour taste as suddenly our lead looked less comfortable, given some of the up and down ties we'd had thus far....every away game felt like a battle. The second leg came around, I decided to play cautiously at the Parc de Princes, learning from our struggles in the league I adopted a counter attacking 4-1-4-1. We played very well and really restricted their opportunities, while created a few counters of our own. They snuck one in with 5 minutes to go, but never looked like scoring again...revenge was sweet, and we were in the final!
A devastating blow before the final - Villalibre out with a twisted ankle, giving him an outside chance of featuring. Two days before the final we also receive injuries to Inigo Cordoba (Iker Muniain was already injured), Jon Martinez our key central midfielder and also Imanol Agirre our other option to play wide left. Fortunately, the injury to Cordoba was just a 1 day affair, so he was back in time. The game was just a few days away, but Martinez was doubtful, however he returned to full training the day of the match and was able to play 75 minutes. The injury to Villalibre meant that his deputy, Ruben Azcona would step in up front. We lined up as follows:
Odriozola (FBa), Ruiz (CDd), Laporte (BPd), Pena (FBs)
Martinez (DLPd), Alonso (CMs)
Williams (Ws), Oyarzabal (APs), Cordoba (IFa)
Yeray was unlucky to miss out to the rapidly developing Ander Ruiz, and Ignacio Rodriguez is nearly displacing Alonso in the centre of midfield. However in the end, my decision to stick with Alonso was rewarded. I was really happy to see the scout report and note that Bayern were playing a 4-4-2, which our 4-2-3-1 was consistently strong against, meaning we could go with our preferred set up. Bayern lined up as follows:
Kimmich, Hummels, Ginter, Alaba
Muller, Milinkovic Savic, Sanches, Coman,
Interestingly, a team with no regens, but a devastating 4-4-2, with the pace of Werner alongside the all round game of Pellegri up front, the cleverness of Muller on the right and pace of Coman/Alaba on the left. In the centre they then had the FM god Milinkovic Savic alongside the physical presence of Sanches. A central defensive partnership of Hummels, Ginter and Neuer oozed class and experience.
An even game, good chances for both sides and an early injury to Odriozola, which saw him replaced by Lekue. A string of fantastic saves from Arrizabalaga kept it at 0-0 until the back up man, Ruben Azcona breaks the deadlock! 1-0 at half time but it was very even, Kepa had kept the scoreboard at 0. The second half continues in much the same vein, but you could see a bit more confidence appearing amongst the Athletic players. Isusko Alonso added a wonderful second from outside the box - not a man to score often but he popped up when it mattered. At this stage we went 4-1-4-1 to retain our lead, and a few more good saves from Kepa kept the score at 2-0. With the clock ticking down Azcona pops up again following a lovely through ball by Oyarzabal to complete the scoring (it may have been offside). As you can Bayern scored A LOT of goals through the knockout stages, so to keep them at 0 was a) a good day at the office and b) showed how well our 4-2-3-1 works against the 4-4-2.
Goals can be found here:
Our high quality young players definitely made the success possible, so here's a run through of some of stars of the campaign.
Jon Martinez is something of a superstar now. He leads the midfield and will be our Captain before long
Scorer in the Champions League final, Alonso has been a solid partner for Martinez this season, with Mikel Merino dropping to the bench.
On the verge of overtaking Kepa for the number 1 spot. They shared 1st choice keeper duties this year.
Ander Ruiz is coming on leaps and bounds in the heart of defence and is now the first choice partner to Laporte.
Our expensive full back signing from Sevilla. The basque regen had a lot of potential, but had a lot of attributes that needed improving. As you can see he's really kicked on and, while not the most attacking, does a superb job at left back for us.
I'd put this guy in the Gerrard mould. He has a fair distance to go in his development, and he tends to play when we need a roaming midfielder in a 4-4-2 so I can give him license to get forwards.