Athletic Club has already competed in four games this season and are yet to be beaten, however that doesn’t mean that everything has bee great. The Lions kicked off their La Liga campaign over the weekend with a homestead against newly promoted Getafe and were unable to put the ball past the keeper which saw the game end in a scoreless draw. In fact, Getafe had a player sent off with half an hour left to go, but it still wasn’t enough for Kuko Ziganda’s side to overcome. Still, Athletic was clearly the stronger side and should have gotten more than a single point. With that being said, let’s have a look at the takeaways from Sunday’s match.
Iñaki Williams In Front Of Goal
One of Iñaki Williams’ biggest issues last season was his lack of proper finishing. He went on a run of games where he just could not put the ball past the keeper despite getting very easy looks in front of goal and fans were hoping to see that put to rest this season. During Sunday’s game those same troubles showed back up again as the 23-year-old had three chances but failed to test the keeper a single time.
To be fair, the first two looks came when Iñaki made a run into the box and received the ball with a very difficult angle to overcome. Both times he tried to put his shot into the corner but was just not able to do anything because of the angle. The first shot skipped wide of the far post while the second was blasted into the near side netting. After both attempts it felt as though there really wasn’t anything else that he could have done, but that wasn’t the end of the story.
The third chance came in the second half with Athletic on a man advantage. Again Iñaki made a run into the box but this time he received the ball with a much better window to take a shot. As he received the pass the entire San Mamés rose their feet in anticipation but the shot was sent just wide of the far post, nearly skimming the bar. It was arguably the best chance of the entire game and one that would have won the game for the Lions. Fans should keep in mind that Iñaki has proven that he can absolutely change games and score brilliant goals, but matches like the one on Sunday definitely don’t look good. Moving forward it will interesting to see how the Lezama product responds.
Iker Muniain’s Brilliance
For the fourth match in a row Iker Muniain looks to be the best and most influential player on the pitch for Athletic Club. The winger was never afraid to take on defenders and at times seemed the be the only player capable of making some magic happen. Muniain attempted 11 dribbles through the match, more than any other player, winning seven of those and really causing problems for the Getafe defense. At times the 24-year-old was beating several players at once and played an integral role in keeping possession in the final third.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that Muniain just spent the entire game alone on the left wing dribbling past defenders. He was also cutting through the defense with his passing and could have had several assists on the day if shots had to put on goal. He also had one great look on goal when he beat two defenders and blasted an effort to the far post. Somehow Vicente Guaita was just able to get a hand to the ball to keep Muniain, and Athletic, off the board.
Muniain is definitely building off of the strong finish he had to last season. He has been playing at a consistently high level and is making his presence known on the pitch. Interestingly enough, he has played his best football when acting as a central attacking midfielder in the space normally occupied by Raúl García. The growth in that role with be something for fans to watch closely as the season unfolds and Kuko Ziganda tinkers with his team.
Mikel San Jose Is Still Vitally Important
This summer Mikel San Jose saw his starting role in the team handed to Mikel Vesga due to his passing ability and different style of play. Since then the 28-year-old has functioned mainly as a substitute at the end of games to provide defensive strength to the midfield, but on Sunday he made his first start of the year. Back alongside Beñat, San Jose dominated the center of the pitch and reminded everyone why he had held that position for so long. It was his best showing of the new season and will give Ziganda something to think about.
San Jose won nine headers in the match, more than any other player, and also made five key interceptions. He also had a key pass that nearly led to a goal and was able to get his head on a free kick cross that almost forced the keeper to make a big save. San Jose’s presence in the midfield freed up Beñat to focus on creating chances and dictating pace of play. At times San Jose was playing nearly in between the two center-back but it definitely paid off in a big way.
Seeing Beñat and San Jose back together was nice for Athletic fans. They have already had so much success that replicating that same rhythm was not difficult at all on Sunday. Moving forward Kuko Ziganda will have some important decisions to make. He has said that he wants Vesga to start due to the fact that he is a better passer and can make the midfield more dynamic. At the same time, he doesn’t offer the same defensive strength in front of the backline that San Jose does. It doesn’t look like Vesga will be losing his starting role anytime soon, but San Jose is doing a great job of forcing Ziganda to really think about his lineup selections.
Unai Nuñez And Iñigo Córdoba Make Their First Team Debuts
Despite the outcome of Sunday’s match and any other performances on the day, the best part was by far seeing Unai Nuñez and Iñigo Córdboa make their first team debuts. Nuñez started at center-back alongside Aymeric Laporte and put in a very fine showing. He was confident on the ball, strong when making challenges, and a force in the air. Nuñez showed no fear. He finished the game with five interceptions, two tackles, and a total of two headers won. He also made seven clearances which was more than any other player. Add in the fact that he completed 82% of his passes and it’s clear he had a solid night.
Córdoba came on with just a few minutes left in the game in hopes of creating a spark and finding the winning goal. He may have only played for a short period of time but he immediately tried to make an impact. The 20-year-old won two dribbles, two tackles, and even put in a promising cross with his first touches of the game. After the game both players admitted to being nervous but it didn’t show on the pitch. They both looked to make the most of their opportunities and left fans with a lot of pride and excitement about the future.
As the season progresses it will be very interesting to see how these two promoted academy stars feature into Kuko Ziganda’s team. Nuñez was chosen over Eneko Boveda which was surprising, while Córdoba was called up instead of someone like Sabin Merino. Regardless of what plans the manager has for these two, their futures are very bright and it was wonderful to see two debuts in the first La Liga match of the season at the San Mamés.
What did you think of Sunday’s scoreless draw? Is Iñaki Williams’ finishing something to worry about? Should Mikel San Jose be starting over Mikel Vesga? Have your say in the comment section below!