I had not watched the first leg of the UEFA Europa League match where Athletic Bilbao to everyone's surprise defeated Manchester United 2-3 at Old Trafford. Tonight's match, in San Mames in Bilbao, I nevertheless managed to see. And I saw what I had read about: a great Athletic Bilbao team that was superior to a too- disillusioned Manchester side. The 2-1 victory was only too small, and Manchester should thank Wayne Rooney's spectacular late goal for the small comeback.
Seen over the two matches Bilbao has been superior, and it is becoming a very interesting team to follow under the charismatic Marcelo Bielsa. In Bilbao, a team with strong Basque nationalist credentials that only wants players of Basque heritage, Mr. Bielsa has a strong and well-organised youth school that forms the base for creating the type of attacking football that he wants to play. Against Manchester United we have now seen it, and it will be very interesting to see whether over the longer run, Athletic Bilbao can become a much needed challenger to the duopoly of Real Madrid and Barcelona in Spain. Personally, I believe that they will be much more likely challengers than teams like Valencia, Malaga or Atletico Madrid.
This closes a bad European season for Manchester United, who is surely not used to being out of European football this early! They still have the Premier League title to fight for, and they are bound to give it all in that fight against the other Manchester team, City.
Manchester City are not going to be busy either though: today they also exited European football after only managing to defeat Sporting Lisbon 3-2, and were eliminated on away goals.