2. 1. Core elements of playing style
The team is very attack minded, and it coupled with an aggressive fight for the ball in all
episodes of playin defensive actions.
* Varying the pace attack -- the buildup play is slow at the back, and then higher up
there's a sudden transformation with quick movement to try to get in behind the back
* Key elements of style in attacking actions - mainly use of the flanks to deliver the ball
into the box, coalitions to 3 players on the flanks, the rapid saturation of the penalty box
with a significant number of players.
* The strategic element of defense is the high pressure (the team begins the ball
tackling on the opponent’s half), a tight coveringeach player individually, and
aggressiveness in the challenges.
* The style of play is based mostly on short / medium pass
Historically, the club's style differed markedly from the traditional Spanish - there have
been a strong tradition of English football: the team took full advantage of the attacks
down the flank, cross to the penalty area, long balls. Under the guidance of Bielsa the
style of the team was retooled for use mainly short / medium pass. From the style of
"Athletic" last year, long passes to the central forward are kept as an option of ball
delivery to attacking line in case of the opponent's pressure.
* The team is organized and shows the discipline on the field, keep the high rhythmin
game throughout the match
The players know their functions and required maneuvers in the game well, respect the
tactical disciplineand they are constantly in motion.
* High morale, fighting for the ball on each part of the pitch
Significant impact on the mental side of the style of the team have a Basque cultural
values - dedication, courage and fight until the end. Taking into account the policy of the
club –only the players of Basque origin can play in the club; "Athletic" is a unique
symbol of the nation and personifies it on the football field.
In psychological terms the team has confidence, a strong fighting spirit. Players
demonstrate a high motivation to fight in every game episode, aggressiveness in the
Main formation is used in the season is 4-2-3-1 (used in 83% of games of the season)
Pic. 1.TheoptimalfirstXI (accordingtothelastgamesinSpainLaLiga):
1.Iraizoz, 3.Aurtenetxe, 5.Amorebieta, 24.Javi Martinez, 15.Iraola, 8.Iturraspe, 21.Ander
Errera, 10.De Marcos, 19.Muniain, 9.Llorente.
Muniain can be used as attacking midfield as well.
The rotation of the squad is not used.
Features of the used formation:
3 all-round midfielders with different functions:
- Holdingmidfielder (Iturraspe)
- central(Ander Errera) –
- Attackingmidfielder (DeMarcos) – moves freely along the whole front of attack, the
most actively involved in the final phase of the attack - while moving on the flank of the
zone to combine in coalition of 3 players or making overlaps to the flank sides of the
* The central striker (Llorente) is aimed at shooting, very rarely used as a "pillar" in the
transition from defense to attack, prefer do flick-on.
* The fullbacks actively take part in the attacks, but may move diagonally from the flank
to the direction of the centre of the box.
Substitutions in the last games:
4. 1) substitution of the central striker (Toquero -> Llorente) in every game in last 20-
25 minutes - to keep the level of activity in the front line, both in the attacks and in the
Toquero demonstrates high activity in the pressure an opponent. In addition, he is more
inclined to shift to the flank in the early stages of attack (attacking midfielder in this case
moved the position of the center-forward), able to hold the ball.
2) Perez come in as a central midfielder or left midfielder
3) San Jose come in for the central or attacking midfielder - San Jose play on the
position of central defender, and Javi Martinez go to the position of central midfield. In
order to strengthen the midfield and keep active pressure in the middle of the field.
Other formation used:
If the rival plays with 2 forwards “Athletic” may use 3-3-1-3.
3. The head coach and his philosophy of the game.
Marcelo Bielsa - one of the most notorious coaches in the world. He is distinguished by
its ardent commitment to football, the master custom tactical
moves. Coach "Barcelona" Pep Guardiola said Bielsa man who greatly influenced
his understanding of football.
* Prone to attacking style of football, like the style of “Ajax” of Louis van Gaal (from the
interview in SCI magazine: “I am a big fan of the football Ajax played under Louis van
Gaal. When executed properly, its winning football and great for fans, which is what we
should all aspire to accomplish»
* He pays considerable attention to tactics and detailed analysis of the opponent in
preparation for the upcoming game.
Meticulous preparation of the team to each game - an imitation of action of the
opponentand future conditions of the game in training (up to the game on the field with a
sizeidentical to the opponent's field or in accordance with the predicted weather
conditions, for example, in the case of predicted rain – he conducted training on a
* Favorite formation: 3-3-1-3 and 4-2-3-1
The choice of the formation is based on the number of the forwards in the opponent’s
first XI – he wants to have one more central defender that number of the forwards (if the
opponent plays with 1 forwards he prefers 4-2-3-1; if 2 forwards – 3-3-1-3)
* Core elements of the philosophy of the game:
- An extremely high line and pressing all over the pitch
- attacking minded football
- keeping high rhythm in the game
- The fullbacks pushing very high up and marking the opposition wingers
5. - getting the numerous advantage in the zone of the ball and in the box
- Assistsareperformedfromtheflank (states that the considerable amount of goal threats
happen after passes from the flanks)
- Using as one of the central defenders of the former central / defensive midfielder -
prefers high pressure and thus the central defender acts in a more
conventional band, more mobile, able to quickly organize an attack in the selection
of the ball
- Using as an attacking central midfield player flanking the former (the game is on the
flanks, the shift to the flank attacking midfielder with experience of action in this area -
strengthening the capacity of the team in offensive actions)
- The role of the fullbacks can be used by the former wingers: according to game
systemsfrom Bielsa - backs actively involved in the
attack, but may move diagonally from the flank to the direction of the centre of the box.
* Any substitutions are performed during a game aim at preserving / strengthening
of attacking potential and keep the level of activity in high pressing
* He can build the team play in accordance with the own philosophy taking into account
the existing limitations in the selection of players
* The management team - adherent of strict discipline and full execution of the orders.
He requires from the players to fight for the ball in each game episode (from the
interview to SCI “Player should fight for every ball during a match. De-organization or
something going wrong during a match, those are acceptable mistakes, things like that
just happen. But giving up or not fighting for a ball, that’s unacceptable”).
P. Guardiola -“I admire the courage of his team, regardless of with whom they have to
* M. Bielsa like and can develop young footballers (from the interview to SCI
“Everyonecanrecognizeagoodplayer. Everyone can recognize a bad player. A good
coach is there to recognize the normal player thathe can turn into a great player”).
4.Key players of the team
Key player of the defensive line and main organizer of the transition to attack.
Canplaylongball; performsthebestaccuracyinpass (85.6% inLaLiga); can join fast
attacks and create momentum in fast attack realization;
In defensive actions he prefers to use interceptions (he is best in the team in the
Strong heading skills.
Universal player - can play on the wing and in central midfield
6. He like and able to dribble. Sometimes he overly keen on an individual actions,
and often loses the ball on the opponent'shalf of the field (most of the ball
losses - 2.9 averages per game in the games of La Liga). As a result of his loss it
lead often that a large group of players are cut and the opponent
In attacking actions he prefers to enter using dribbling into the penalty, or
execute an overlap to the side of the box.
Usually he is the first player who starts pressing of the opponent after the loss
of the ball at the opponent's half of the field.
Central forward and main threat to the goal of the opponent; scored most goals in
the team (8 from 27)
Strongheadingskills. Win major part of the air challenges. “Athletic” uses it in the
game – crosses in attacks and long balls as the mean in pressing
overcoming.Likes to do flicks on, is weak in holding on to the ball
One of the most versatile players on the team - can play in any position
in midfield andeven used in some games in a season as a left fullback
prefer to play a short pass, is able to perform sharp pass into the penalty area,
like to use dribbling
He is rather emotional, sometimes loses control and concentration
Ander Errera Errera
Key figure in delivering the ball to the attack, in the development of fast attacks
andregulation of the direction of the last phase of the attack
performs the greatest number of passes per game in the team (average 55.6,
with 81.1% accuracy)
He has a high speed playing intellect and technically well-equipped, able to beat
in the 1-in-1
Gets fouled often
in attacking actions he is able to do through pass into the box (in the flank zones
of the box)
He is able to shoot from the distance
7. 5. ATTACKS
А. Organization of attacks.
* In the 1st stage of build-up:
In the 1st stage of the attack the team prefers diagonal ball to the near partner.
The goalkeeper played on one of the central defenders, a central defender -
on midfielder / center in the field or on the fullbacks.
* In attacks the team comply with the following principles:
- When passthe ball into the adjacent zone - use diagonal pass
- When pass the ball through the zones - vertical pass
* Midfielders in the center of the field (except the holding midfielder) move in the vertical
channels on the opponent side of the field. Winger tries to position veryclose to the
flank - stretching the defense of the opponent.
Muniain is prone to cut in – creating numerous advantages in the middle of the pitch – it
helps midfielders to get free for a pass in ball delivery to attack.
Forward tries to shift to a free zone - in the center or on the flank.
* In the development of attacks the ball is delivered to the middle of the field with next
transition to the flank area (Pic. 3). Predominantly - to the right flank. Ander Errera plays
the significant role in determining the direction of attack.
8. Pic. 3. Geometry of main direction of attacks
* The play in attacks is supported by the fullbacks – keeps the width in the attacks. As
one of them take part in coalition on the flank, another one keep the width on the
opposite flank and is ready to enter into the [penalty box.
* In the last stage of the attacks – create numerous advantages on the flank and play
the triangular combinations (fullback – wide midfielder – attacking midfielder).
Mostusedcombinations are “one-two” with overlaps of the third one to the flank or to the
flank zone of the penalty box.
Overlaps on the flank – Areola, Susaeta. Overlaps to the box – De Marcos, Muniain.
Pic. 4. Final actions in attacks
* Key feature to be noted in the final stage of the attacks is the fast saturation of the box
with high number of players (pic. 5).
Thereare 5 playersusuallyintheboxwhoarereadytoattacktheball: practically 2 lines– 2-3
players in the first line and 3 on the edge of the penalty box.
9. Pic. 5
* Main sources of the goal threats:
- crosses from the right flank (Iraola, Susaeta)
- pass from the left flank zone of the penalty box (De Marcos, Muniain)
The leaders in goal assist in La Liga – Susaeta (4), De Marcos (3), and Muniain (2).
* Allthecrosses/passestotheboxaimatthecentreofthebox, even more at the centre of the
keeper line. 63% of shots were performed from the box, most part from the central
* TheaccuracyofshotsatgoalinLaLiga – 11%.
Structure of scored goals in the games of La Liga
10 from 27 (37%) were scored after right flank attacks
Hereare 2 options:
А) incounterattacks–performed diagonal ball from the center to the free zone on the
flank, where the player entered into and sent the ball to the penalty box
Б) overlaps down the flank in triangular combinations and cross to the box
5 (19%) were scored after success in high pressing
6 (22%) were scored in corners.
Mainthreattotheopponent’sgoalisLlorente – scored 8 balls (4 with head); perform more
shots at goal than others (2.6 per game)
Atthesametime – the wide range of players who can score - 12 players scored 1-2
B. Transition from defense to attack
Varying the pace attack -- the buildup play is slow at the back, and then higher up
there's a sudden transformation in getting the ball to the line of midfield.
Themanagementofball transition to attackisperformedbyJaviMartinez (in most
10. Incaseofhighpressingoftheopponentinthe 1 ststageofbuild–the player in possession
often plays back-pass (more often to the partner who sends him the ball initially). The
partner after receiving the back pass, send the ball in another direction – another
Incaseoftightpressingofthegoalkeeper – thelatterplaylongballindirectionofLlorente.
Iftheopponentpressafterlossoftheballinattack –pass to the flank;if any – play back pass
with following long ball in direction of Llorente.
* Main features of counterattacks:
Pacemovementofthegroupofattackingplayeronverticalchannels in full width
of the field
Developmentofcounterattacksaccordingtotherule of the relay – run with the
ball on 20-25 meters then side pass to the partner who make the next run with
Most typical geometry of counterattack:
* Transition after ball tackling on the opponent’s half – run with the ball towards the box
or rapid diagonal to the flank
C. Set-pieces (attacks)
Main threats – Javi Martinez, Amorebieta, Llorente.
1) The ball is crossed to the centre of the box, close to the line of the keeper box.
11. 5 players are in the box. Muniain attacks the ball on the far post, Aurtenexte (San Jose)
– on the near post; Llorente – in the center. Those movements create the space for
attacking the ball in centre by the players (Javi Martinez, Amorebieta) as the second
2) Thecrossisperformedalong the line of the keeper box, directed to the near post.
3 players are on the edge of the keeper box and attack the ball. Javi Martinez – at near
post, Llorente (San Jose) – in centre, Amorebieta – at the far post
The cross aims at the center of the penalty box or at the near post.
Main threats: Llorente (centre), Javi Martinez (near post), Amorebieta (San Jose) – far
* In some cases the team prefer fast shot pass to the near partner when send the cross
12. 6. DEFENSE
А. Transition to defense.
* Themainfeature = highlineandpressingalloverthepitch(prefer to start defensive actions
on the opponent’s half).
To be noted:
“Athletic” inordertoreceivetheball – thelatter, whocontrolthezone,
followsthatopponent and press him in the moment of ball receiving;
Balltacklingin 1-on-1; oftentrytoplay on interception.
When lost ball possession in the opponent’s half
The nearest player press an opponent with the ball, others players of “Athletic” mark
personally players of the opponent.
Theneutralizationofthe opponent’s counterattack is performed by holding midfielder and
central defenders. The latters are positioned in the area of the centre circle. The one of
the mentioned player tries to meet the opponent in the area of the central circle. If the
counterattack is performed on high pace (due to lack of compactness on the opponent’s
half) – the defenders move down and meet the opponent with ball in area which are 10-
15 meters from the box.
Also the central defenders cover the flanks – as fullback play high – mark wingers of the
opponent. Inthecaseoffastcounterattack via pass to flankfullbacks come back and take
position of central defender.
Рис. 9. Example: fast counterattack through left flank of defense.
The successful mean to overcome pressing was diagonal balls to the middle of the field.
When the opponent starts build-up from the back
1 option – the team is like divided in 2 groups:
5 playersperformhighpressingontheopponent’shalf, resembling the formation of the
opponent and mark each player of the rival personally;
Thenextgroup (holdingmidfielderanddefenders) ispositionedonownhalf.
Fullbacksmarkwingersoftherival man-to-man.The holding midfielder marks the rival of
13. the opponent in the area of the central circle.The team is rather stretched, but all the
players of the rival are marked.
2ndoption – Llorentepress an opponent with the ball; the line of midfielders is positioned
at the central circle– one of the players move up and press the opponent who get the
ball near middle of the field (on the opponent’s half).
B. Defense on own half
The main defensive actions on their half of the field are performed usually 7
players: defenders, holding midfielder and 1-2 players from group of attack
(usually Ander Errera and Susaeta; De Marcos and Muniain come back to defense with
The line of defense operates in accordance with the principles of zonal marking. The
defensive line is fairly narrow - almost the width of the penalty area.
If the opponent has the player who acts between the lines (defense and midfield) when
he receives the ball the appropriatecentral defender go out to press him. The
movement of the flank player of the rival to the centre draws the fullback and opens the
zone on the left flank.
The holding midfielder: if the rival attack down the centre– he moves down to cover
central defender who goes up to press an opponent, if the rival attack down the flank –
press the opponent or performs a diagonal covering of the player who press the
Ander Errera– usually moves into the zone of the ball, taking part in the ball tackling
and creating numerousadvantages in the area of the ball.
De Marcos, when recovering to the defense, closes the central area in front of the box.
Usually the players of the team tackle an opponent at the time of receiving him the
ball, not allowing time for processing. Often use a sliding tackle.
Often the team commits fouls of 5-10 m from the penalty area, in areas of the
left and right from the box.
C. Gaps in defense
1) The creation of free space on the flank after movement of the rival winger in the
center (fullback "Athletics" follow him and opens the free space on the flank). The
opponent may play diagonal to the flank to the moving up opponent’s fullback. The
situation was observed on the left flank of the defense. Muniain doesn’t always chase
the opponent’s fullback.
2) An opponent’s player is often free in the central zones of the box (central
defender out of line to attack an opponent with the ball between the lines, fullback is not
always take correct position to close the opponent coming in the center of the penalty
box). Theexample –pic. 11.
3) In the ball is losses or intercepted in the area below (pic. 12) - there is a considerable
space in center field for a quick counter-attack an opponent. The central
defenders prefer move to his half of the field and meet the opponent's attack15 meters
from the box.The counter-attack is successful if it develops through pass to the flank.
D. Conceded goals in La Liga
* In 19 games of La Liga the team conceded 23 goals.
It’s to be noted that 8 of them (35%) were scored in the first 5 games.
* There is the trend of decreasing the amount of goals conceded in each 4 games.
* In overall, there is not clear distinctive pattern in conceded goals. But all most of the
goals and penalty were happened due to mistakes of defenders in positions taken in the
centre of the box.
15. 5 from 19 goals were conceded after cross from the right flank of the
But:4 players were conceded in that way in the first 5 games of La Liga.
From last 10 conceded goals
4goalswereconcededafterthroughpassintothecentreofthebox(2 of them
after winning the rebound in the box – the midfielders don’t mark the opponent’s
players who enter into the box)
2 goals were conceded after cross the ball in the direction of the far post in
E. Set-pieces (defense)
Corner (pic. 13)
Use predominantly man marking.
Only Llorente close the dangerous zone – the center of the box or the zone of the near
post (position on the side line of the keeper box.
Susaeta take position on the near post.
Muniain is outside the box – from the side of the flank from which the corner is taken.
4 playersmarkopponentinthebox. Amorebietamaypositioncentrallyandfollowtheball.
De Marcos and Ander Errera are outside the box and responsible for rebound and fast
Thewallisfromthe 5-6 players (jump).
Muniainisfreeoutsidetheboxto avoid any free combination. Don’tleaveanyone up front.
The wall is from 2-3 players (Susaeta/Muniain, Ander Errera)
Llorente close the central zone in the box.
De Marcosisfreeoutsidetheboxto avoid any free combination.
Other players mark opponents man-to-man.
16. Pic. 14
2) inattacksfromtheback – usethroughballsintothebox;
4) overmanning the far post in cornersand cross to the far post
1) The saturation of the center of the field in order to limit the number of usual options in
2) Tight pressure of Muniain with the ball (when he losses the ball it cut a large part of
the team and there is the opportunity for quick counterattacks)
3) active pressure of goalkeeper in the 1st stage of the attack- in this case to be ready
to fight for the ball in air with Llorente and mark attacking midfielder, who is able to get a
ball after flick-on
4) Readiness to fight for the ball in air
5) Be prepared to resist a combination “one-two” and triangular passing on the flank
Alternative possible tactics:
It’s potentially advantageous to play against Athletic with two strikers and high-
speed wingers (playing high up on the flanks). First of all, it may cause Athletic use
formation 3-3-1-3, in accordance to thephilosophy of head
coach. Secondly, usingfast midfielders can make wing backs in this formation to
act deep - that is, in fact, the team will play a 5-2-3 scheme and the potential in attacks
will be reduced. Thirdly - as a consequence, it creates a significant space in the
center of the field for quick counterattack orallowsball possession in the middle of fields
(using 3 midfielders in the central zone).