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A thankless task taking over the reins at Athletic

Now Ziganda really does have to come into his own

Jason Pettigrove, Special to Gulf News
15:09 March 7, 2018

Whoever took over from Ernesto Valverde at Athletic Club probably knew they were taking a poisoned chalice.

Unless the new incumbent hit the ground running and made a seamless transition into the role, he was always going to find himself under pressure.

The problem for Kuko Ziganda is that Los Leones have looked a shadow of their former selves in a lot of games, and it appears that he doesn’t have the necessary nous to be able to change the game if it’s getting away from his team.

For example, by and large, his substitutions have been poor. They’ve either come too late or not at all.

Not quite a rabbit in the headlights, Ziganda has overseen a team that has been far too inconsistent in 2017/18.

Despite some good performances and decent results, such as a 0-0 draw with Real Madrid or a 3-1 away victory at Spartak Moscow, he’s also presided over some insipid 90 minutes.

A goalless draw against Las Palmas and a 1-0 home defeat by Formentera, to knock Athletic out of the Copa del Rey, spring to mind.

When they’re good, they’re fantastic, but such instances have been few and far between.

Ziganda will now certainly have his work cut out against a Marseille side that have kept 21 clean sheets in all competitions this season.

Perhaps of more concern is that they’ve lost just once at home all season, way back in September, and if Athletic have genuine aspirations of getting to the next round of the Europa League then they have to take something away from their visit to the south of France.

Rudi Garcia will mirror Athletic’s 4-2-3-1 formation, and he’s boosted by the return of master craftsman Dimitri Payet. Unai Nunez will be kept busy all game long by the former West Ham man’s trickery.

In midfield, Athletic’s Benat and Mikel San Jose will need to stop Morgan Sanson from breaking the lines and Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa from dictating the pace and direction of the match.

The hosts are likely to dominate, but that could suit Athletic who will utilise Inaki Williams’ pace on the counter attack to cause problems for Jordan Amavi.

Aritz Aduriz is always looked upon to provide the game winning moment, and the chances are that the evergreen centre-forward will get at least one decent chance.

A 2-0 weekend loss will have done nothing for the player’s confidence but now Ziganda really does have to come into his own.

Although the team are languishing in a disappointing 13th place in the Spanish top flight, they remain just nine points behind sixth place, so a good European result could have a knock-on effect to see them finishing the league season strongly.