Bilbao vs Ostersunds by Sweem
It was Ostersunds best performance in club history, and still there was a heavy disappointment hanging over the stadium after seeing the 2-2 score as the referee blew the whistle at Jamtkraft Arena. A draw versus Athletic Bilbao sounds great for any Swedish team, but considering how dominant Ostersunds were in the game, it should really not have been a draw. The positive part for Ostersund is that they remain undefeated in Europa League, while Athletic Bilbao slipped even further away from qualifying.
The game began with Ostersund taking the command from the start, but after a huge error by the goalkeeper, it was Athletic Bilbao who took the 0-1 lead. Ostersund continued to pressure, and the reward came in the beginning of second half with two quick goals after solid build up. In the last five minutes, Bilbao played desperate and it paid off when Inaki Williams scored from close range. A robbery, a steal, a gift - Bilbao know that they were not deserving that point. It gave us an idea of what these two teams are capable of doing.
We have previously talked about how difficult it is to play in Sweden, but we have to switch the format this time and state that San Mames is no easy place either. Athletic Bilbao have had a hectic schedule since that 2-2 tie in Sweden, but have not managed to win in four straight matches. They returned to Spain to suffer a loss against Leganes, and later played a 1-1 draw versus Formentera in the Cup. The latest let down, was against Barcelona at home (0-2) and coach Jose Zigandas side are still looking for a way to gain confidence and momentum.
The hosts will be without Iker Muniain, and defender Balenziaga also look probable to miss out.
There are more positive vibes in Ostersund. They followed up the Europa League round with a 0-1 win at IFK Goteborg (on natural grass) and also a 4-1 trashing of Elfsborg at home. They have only lost two games of the last 15 in total - showing great resiliance and consistency through the stretch. Ostersund are admirable in the way they play, but it also opens up a lot of risk. For that reason, regardless of how impressive they were, full trust can not be given.
At the moment, Ostersund perform the best football Sweden can offer and they are happy to enter this clash with a full squad available. There will not be the same urgency for Ostersund in this game, since they maintain a solid position in the group. We will probably see Bilbao trying to dictate and Ostersund will not have as much possession as the first match.
Keeping in mind the money factor - Ostersund is a small club, so each draw or victory in Europa League generates significant amounts for them, in which the players have been granted a very good bonus program to share within the team. In other words, there is a significant motivation individually for Ostersund to perform.
For Athletic Bilbao, Europa League is a long-shot. Firstly, their chances to progress does not look great and domestically there is more to expect. While Athletic Bilbao play much different at home than away, it is important to keep in mind that Ostersund are not going to be tourists at San Mames either, but they will try to play the same way as in the first meeting between these two. The Swedes have been to more hostile stadiums before, for example in Istanbul and Thessaloniki, so this is yet another test for Ostersund.
In each of the away games, they have managed to score - and considering that Bilbao are not super serious about Europa League, while Ostersund are literally treating this as their life priority, I see the value in the visitors. However, both teams to find the net is where my stake goes, as Bilbao need to make a statement and show an improving curve as well.