There was sad news in Bilbao on Tuesday when it was announced that, during a routine scan to check on the progress of Yeray’s recent bout with cancer, an abnormality had been discovered. The defender will begin chemotherapy and is expected to miss three months of action. While the most important thing is clearly the player’s health and recovery, Athletic Club must also prepare to be without the defender for some time. That being said, Cuco Ziganda does not plan on signing a new player in the wake of this news.
To begin with, Aymeric Laporte will still be in the starting lineup which will provide strength. Ziganda will be able to choose between Eneko Boveda and Xabi Etxeita to play alongside the Frenchman and both have shown the ability to be capable defenders. A few years ago Etxeita was playing well enough to be called up to the Spain National Team, but his form soon took a dip. Meanwhile, Boveda transitioned from right-back to center-back under Ernesto Valverde and quickly became the favorite of the two.
While fielding a starting lineup will not be difficult, per se, the team also needs depth. Ziganda knows that Mikel San Jose can deputize as a center-back if needed, especially given the fact that the midfield will have plenty of coverage this season. Ander Iturraspe and Mikel Vesga would be able to play alongside Benat if needed, and the Lions are still in heavy pursuit of Borussia Dortmund’s Mikel Merino. Playing San Jose in defense isn’t the best option, but it is depth nonetheless.
Lastly, Ziganda will also have two young defenders that he could call upon. Oscar Gil spent last season on loan at Real Oviedo and was a favorite of Ziganda at Bilbao Athletic. While he hasn’t yet proven to be a Primera defender, he is quite talented and still improving. The 22-year-old has yet to be told what the upcoming season will hold and he could spend the preseason with the first team. Additionally, Unai Nunez will be training under Ziganda this summer and could fight for a first team spot. The Bilbao Athletic defender is the best to come out of Lezama since Yeray and plays a very similar physical and fearless game. Some close to the situation believe that he could be used as a depth option until Yeray returns and then be sent back down to Bilbao Athletic where he could be called upon again if needed.
It is quite clear that Athletic have plenty of options to fill the hole that will be left by Yeray. Still, no one will be able to step into the lineup and play at the level that he was performing. Being without the star defender at the beginning of the season is not good for the Lions, but the most important thing is his health and recovery. In cases like these, football definitely takes a back seat. Yeray is hoping for a quick recovery and return to the pitch and has said that he is ready to beat this for a second time. Eusti Yeray!