Bilbao up to sixth, with €36m Manchester United target on bench

Athletic Bilbao

Ander Herrera, a target for Manchester United, watched on as an unused substitute as Bilbao climbed to sixth in La Liga.

Athletic Bilbao' superb 2011/12 which saw them lose finals of the Copa del Rey and the Europa League disappeared quickly.

A torrid campaign last season saw them lucky to finish as high as 12th, with star striker Fernando Llorente marginalised and boss Marcelo Bielsa departing in June.

New manager Ernesto Valderde has steadied the ship somewhat, orchestrating a revival which places them on course to battle for a European place come the end of the season.

Bilbao scored a big win on Monday night over newly promoted Villareal, who themselves are riding high in fourth in La Liga.

They did so through goals from Mikel Rico and Aritz Aduriz, while supposed key midfielders Benat and Ander Herrera began on the bench.

While Benat was brought on late on, Herrera - subject of interest from Manchester United in the transfer window was an unused substitute.

The Spaniard had recently been concerned about a hamstring injury, but was passed fit to feature at San Mames, only to find himself overlooked - with another formerly reported United target Oscar de Marcos taking his place at the tip of the midfield three, making only his third start in La Liga this season and seizing the chance to impress.

Given fact Bilbao's midfield played so well, with Rico among the scorers and summer signing Benat likely to be worked back into the side, it is going to be tough for Herrera to force his way back into the team.

Herrera was recently criticised by club president Jose Urrutia, told he must focus on his football and giving his all for Bilbao, rather than thinking about Manchester United.

Bilbao have always insisted they want to keep him, and will only sell is his €36m release clause is met, but if he can't win back his place in the side, then the Red Devils are unlikely to shell out such big money for his service.

Over the next two months-and-a-half months it will be fascinating to see if he can rise to the challenge.

Is Herrera the player United really need?

image: © birasuegi

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