Europa League - Athletic put four past Schalke
Thu, 29 Mar 21:57:00 2012
Athletic Bilbao produced a ruthless display at the Veltins-Arena to stun Schalke 4-2 in an exhilarating first leg of their Europa League quarter-final.
Hosts Schalke fell behind to Fernando Llorente's scrappy finish - but the lead lasted only 31 seconds.
Raul levelled with a close-range effort before raising the roof in Gelsenkirchen with a ferocious volley, extending his own record of goals in all European competitions to 76.
But Llorente headed his second against the run of play before Oscar De Marcos turned in from close range to make it three and put the visitors into the lead.
Iker Muniain stroked in an invaluable, if flattering, fourth to put the Basque side in firm control of the tie ahead of next week's second leg.
Over two legs against Manchester United, Athletic were sensational. They toyed with last year's Champions League runners-up with a brand of football that captivated a new audience and led many to question the tactical strength of the Premier League.
Despite hitting four, this was not one of those nights and many of the stars of that memorable win were passengers for long periods as Schalke took them to task.
Schalke boss: Bilbao slaughtered us
The influential Muniain, Markel Susaeta and Ander Herrera were out-run and out-thought by a positive Schalke midfield that pressed high and passed quickly. And Schalke should have made their guests pay early on when Klaas-Jan Huntelaar latched onto Julian Draxler's neat through ball, but dragged his left-footed shot narrowly wide of the far post.
That miss proved costly as Athletic fashioned the opener with their first real attack.
De Marcos cut back to Susaeta, whose shot was spilled by Timo Hildebrand and Llorente turned in from close range after the goalkeeper had smothered his initial effort. Hildebrand then had to be replaced by substitute keeper Mathias Schober after suffering what looked like blow to the face.
But Schalke's response was about as perfect as it could have been, equalising within 31 seconds of the restart through Raul's near-post poached finish after Atsuto Uchida had cut back the cross.
Schalke were well on top at this stage and thoroughly deserved the lead when it again came courtesy of Raul, who rolled back the years with a stylish volley from the edge of the box.
But the Bundesliga side, who reached the semi-finals of the Champions League last season, failed to put the game to bed - and Bilbao were only too happy to punish them with another goal out of the blue. Taking advantage of slack marking at a corner, Llorente flicked in with his head at the near post for 2-2.
While there was a sense of injustice that Schalke had conceded two away goals in a game they had bossed, there was worse to come for Huub Stevens's side when De Marcos grabbed a third.
Bilbao burst forward on the counter-attack, Susaeta fired a low cross in from the right which Schober could only palm into the path of De Marcos, who was left with a simple finish from a couple of yards out.
Schalke, desperate to serve justice with a third of their own, came agonisingly close through Huntelaar, who shook the frame of the goal when his beautiful volley came back off the post.
Raul drew a save out of Gorka Iraizoz in the closing stages, before Schalke were hit with a stoppage-time sucker punch when Muniain swept into the roof of the net after Schalke were caught cold by another blistering Athletic break.Michael Da Silva - Twitter @mjdasilva / Eurosport