Welcome back to Spain for part 2 of this blog! After setting the scene, analysing the squad, bringing in a couple of new faces and taking the team on a pre-season tour of China, it’s time to get down to business…
The first match of the season arrives, and we’re away to Tenerife, who boast a talented young keeper in Bengt Andersson, some past and future premier league legends in Emerson and Slavisa Jokanovic, and Dutch frontman, Roy Makaay. I set up with the trusted 2-3-1-2-2 formation with a direct style. Lakabeg makes his debut at right-back, while Billabona is on the bench.
This was not the start I was hoping for. Despite some promising early signs, we have a goal disallowed after the referee “spotted something”, and 1 shot on target out of 7 as we slump to a 1-0 defeat.
The UEFA Cup second round draw is made, and we face French side Metz, who have fortunately sold Robert Pires to Juventus (for a change). They do however possess Rigobert Song, and Hasan Kachloul, who would go on to represent Liverpool and Southampton respectively. I would have preferred the away leg first, but hey ho.
I didn’t think it would be long, but didn’t expect Parma to be the first club to make an offer. Needless to say, it was rejected.
Next up it’s another away trip, this time to Racing (or Rathing, if you’re Spainish) Santander. They’re managed by Marcos Alonso (not the Chelsea one!) and have signed Guti on a free, but are about to lose Hugo Porfirio to Sevilla or Oviedo, he still makes the bench though.
We look set for another defeat but salvage a draw and are fortunate that Bestchastnykh balloons his penalty. We were lucky not to give away another pen right on half time when Larrainzar hand-balled in the box. We did slightly better with our shooting this time, with 3 shots on target out of 9.
The good news keeps coming…
Up next is our first home game as we welcome Merida. Surely a good chance to get our first win? Apparently not. We manage 17 shots, and 7 on target, none of which find the net. The board quite rightly say it’s a poor result.
Our finishing so far has been woeful, and with Urzaiz out for a month, I decide to fetch my shopping basque-et (see what I did there?) and find a new striker.
This lad looks alright, although I wish he was 10 years younger, but you can’t have everything. I sign him for £650k and his value instantly doubles, which could be promising, but unfortunately he’s ineligible for the UEFA Cup. He’s got a week to move his belongings and family over from Portugal as it’s an international break.
What the lord giveth, the lord taketh away… This is getting ridiculous now.
To confirm, that’s 3 of my 5 best players out injured now, but it’s not like we’ve got Barcelona next or anything… Oh wait…
With so many key players injured, I switch to 4-3-3 for this match, and we we hold our own for most of the first half before Rivaldo puts Barca in front on the stroke of half time. We hold on for another half an hour after the break, but De La Pena and Anderson finish the job. Loinaz makes his debut but is thrown in at the deep end somewhat. I can have few complaints about the result.
So to our first European match of the season, and we welcome Metz to the Stadium San Mames. The name Metz for me, conjures up memories of the schnapps drink made famous by the Judderman, but it is the 90’s after all! Hopefully we can make our opponents judder with fear.
Anyway, to the football and after going 2-0 up, we’re pegged back to 2-2. Alkiza, who is only in the team because of Urzaiz’s injury and the ineligibility of Loinaz, strikes just after the hour to give us our first win of the season. We’ll have to be careful in the second leg after conceding 2 away goals.
Another departure as Javi Gonzalez heads for Alaves. I hope they remember this if I want to buy any of their players.
Back to the league, and Sporting Gijon (or should I say Hee-hon) come to town in what turns out to be a 7-goal thriller. Etxebe settles the early nerves before Gijon hit back to lead 2-1, but a brace from Loinaz on his home debut gives us the lead back. We’re heading for another draw when Gijon strike late on, but Guerrero fires in a last-minute winner to give us all 3 points.
So not quite the start I’d envisaged, 14th in the table with 5 points and a negative goal difference after 5 games, but with 2 wins in a row, hopefully our form is on the up, just in time for a trip to the capital to face Real Madrid.
See you all next week for part 3!