Editor Paul Wilkes looks at two strikers looking to help their sides, but in completely different situations
Recent success have led to reviewed expectations at the start of the season for Espanyol and Athletic Bilbao, they had just one win between them from an opening total of six fixtures before they locked horns during the Sunday morning kick-off slot. Game times that were originally devised to attract the foreign market - though hampering themselves by only featuring Real Madrid twice last season and Barcelona not at all - are now doing just that, with goals galore and wide-open matches.
Espanyol were comfortably leading 2-0 at the break, for the 2nd game running they failed to take all three points as Athletic looked disheveled and un-organised, with their players consistently glancing over to the bench for further instruction and inspiration. Whilst Marcelo Bielsa is the greatest theorist in football, the limited pool of players he can call upon and their insistence on being human is undermining his tactical nous. Some of the Argentinians movements and switches during the game had him threatening to become a parody of himself.
For all the nice patient build-up passing from the Catalans, vertical play and anomalistic player selections of the Basques, it was two more old-fashioned style target men that had the biggest influence over proceedings.
It's now two goals in two appearances for Samuele Longo, who followed in the footsteps of Phillipe Coutinho this summer who had made the same move last January, arriving on loan from Internationale. Early signs indicate strength, pace, movement and good feet. A confidence and readiness beyond his years in holding up the ball and bringing midfield runners into the game, though his maturity could be questioned for picking up two silly yellow cards. The first for trying to stop a quickly taken free-kick, the second for celebrating with the fans after scoring his goal; perhaps a little harsh when being sent off, though a valuable lesson for the future nether-less.
He had a part in all three of Espanyol's goals, involved in the buildup play for the first, his cross goal shot was parried out for the arriving Verdu for the second and his coolly taken goal for the third having got in behind the defence once again. Unlucky not to score earlier in the game, when he used his pace upon the last shoulder of the defence, taking the ball around the arriving Gorka Iraizoz, before running out of pitch when trying to slot it into the empty net.
Never prolific until last season as a youngster, his five goals in nine games including strikes in the semi-final and final helped Inter win the first ever Next Generation Series, he has made just one substitute appearance for the Nerazzurri first team.
Mauricio Pochettino's side have won just three of their last 18 La Liga games last term and have not won away from home at all since December 2011. It's important they don't put too much pressure on the 20 year-old, though he seems more than capable of dealing with it, he now needs the rest of his new team-mates to step up to the bar.
It took just two minutes and two touches for Fernando Llorente to make his impact on the season when arriving in the 69th minute. His equalizer was more surprising given it was a fairly obvious substitution to make, something not always associated with 'El Loco'.
"It hurts that people doubt me, I have always given my all for Athletic," Llorente told Spanish radio SER after the game. "In January I will be free again to negotiate, but I want to push that all to the side now to help my team. The less people talk about me, the better." Sorry Fernando, but I'm on your side. Fractured relations between Bielsa and the board, the sale of Javi Martinez and the clubs insistence on painting the picture of a troublesome want-away striker, has led to an eventful summer of problems at San Mamés.
Now more than ever, they need to unite. The small offering of travelling fans gave Llorente a good reception when he arrived on the pitch and so they should have given his clear emotional and professional tie with the club. This, I have seen for myself, after last seasons match at Old Trafford, he left the coach that was waiting to depart Manchester having spotted 40 or so fans that were eager to catch sight of their hero, shaking hands with everyone that wanted to.
Athletic Club will need Fernando Llorente at his very best over the coming months if they are to improve up the league. The symbolism of the player could be the catalyst to shake off their early season woes.