x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Unforgiving fixture list is proving tough on Athletic Bilbao

It is a shame the Basques are being punished for their excellence by an inflexible football calendar.

Athletic Bilbao had plenty celebrate in Germany last week as they beat Schalke 4-2.
Athletic Bilbao had plenty celebrate in Germany last week as they beat Schalke 4-2.

Athletic Bilbao have thrilled fans with their cup form this season. They meet Barcelona in the Copa del Rey final next month, but their highlights so far have been in the Europa League.

It is a shame the Basques are being punished for their excellence by an inflexible football calendar.

On Thursday, they put four past Schalke 04 in an enthralling encounter in Germany. Their next domestic match was just two days later. Away. Against Barcelona. At 10pm. Nearly 90,000 showed at Camp Nou to see the game, but fatigue forced them to play a weakened side which lost 2-0.

Athletic's small squad of trusted home-grown players does not help. Seven of them have started 42 or more games this season. Not one Real Madrid player has, nor a player from Valencia, while only Lionel Messi has started more than 40 games for Barca. Athletic are being doubly penalised for the sins of nurturing local talent and their modest revenues.

In contrast to some English sides who played reserves in Europa League matches, Athletic are saving their energy for cup games. It comes at a cost - their league form has plummeted with five losses and a draw since they won at Manchester United last month.

At least Athletic get a breather this week. They play Schalke in the second leg tomorrow and then do not play until Sunday when they entertain Sevilla, but if football wants the Europa League to be taken seriously, Uefa need better communication with national associations to prevent teams playing two games in two days.