Iker Munian and Inaki Williams have combined for 6 goals and 2 assists in Basque Derbies this season. The two best friends have turned their fierce loyalty to Athletic into concentrated brilliance against local rivals and it is paying off in a major way for Los Leones. If Athletic wants to be back in Europe next year, they will need the duo to continue their terrific run this season.
There isn’t anything quite like a local Derby. Throughout history, Athletic Club has been involved in countless huge rivalry matches and have generally remained the strongest team in the Basque Country. This season, their dominance has been clear. Athletic is unbeaten in Derby matches, winning 4 of the 6 games so far this season. During these matches, two players have consistently stood out and put in outstanding performance – Iker Muniain and Inaki Williams.
Muniain has scored four league goals this season, with two coming against Basque rivals. He was the man of the match in the 3-1 win over Eibar back in December, scoring once and giving an assist. His best performances this season have come in Derbies and it is clear that he is stepping up to the occasion when needed. Muniain has also taken a new role as a captain this year and has been wearing the armband with immense pride. During Athletic’s 2-1 win against Osasuna on Saturday, he was wearing the captain’s band again, playing one of his best games of the season.
Inaki has also scored four goals this season, every one of those in Basque Derbies. He also gave an assist in the 3-2 victory over Real Sociedad back in October. The 22-year-old was the man of the match during Saturday’s win over Osasuna, putting in a masterclass performance with and without the ball. His world class pass to free up Oscar De Marcos led to Athletic’s first goal and his cool finish just before halftime proved to be the winning goal. Like his best friend, Muniain, Inaki has stepped up big time in Basque Derbies and has arguably played his best football of the season against local rivals.
The duo have combined well on the field this season partly due to their friendship off the pitch. Muniain and Williams are best friends and you can see their closeness when celebrating goals together. Both formed at Lezama, they have been raised with the same ideals and goals for their careers. Muniain, for instance, said last year that he only wants players solely committed to Athletic at the club. In turn, Inaki rejected an offer to join Liverpool over the summer and has said on multiple occasions that he dreams of becoming a legend at the San Mames.
Part of their success during Derbies comes down to the tactics being used. Against Osasuna on Saturday, and during a few other matches, Muniain has been free to float into the center of the field and link up play. His connection with Inaki is sublime and it makes the Athletic attack even more dangerous. Muniain has proven this season that he can be the central attacking midfielder of the future. His vision, pace, and shiftiness can cause a lot of problems for defenders and he is never afraid to get physical. Despite his slight build, Muniain is fearsome and never backs down.
Inaki tends to have the same role every game. Whether playing up front or on the wing, he is also free to use his speed and dribbling ability to beat defenders. Even though he can win almost dribble he wants, it is Inaki’s selflessness that makes him so deadly. He is able to pull defenders out of position and even command multiple players such as he did against Osasuna. This opens up space for teammates to run into and get better looks at goal. Just Inaki’s presence alone makes everyone else on the team a bigger threat.
It is hard to believe that Iker Muniain is still only 24 years old. It feels as though he has been around forever. Coupled with the fact that Inaki is only 22, the future is very bright in the Athletic attack. These best friends who have a fierce loyalty to Athletic have come up big in every Basque Derby this season. Fans still hope to see this form on a more consistently, but the flashes are there. The duo are capable of achieving great things at Athletic and it all starts with qualifying for Europe again next season. As far as this year goes, there are two Derbies left to be played – on the road against Eibar and Alaves. Iker Muniain and Inaki Williams have become the heroes of Euskal Derbia and the Lions will be hoping for brilliant showings in these games if they want to continue climbing the table.