Athletic Club’s 1-0 win over Eibar on Sunday was a momentous occasion for several reasons. It was the team’s first win of the La Liga season, the first Derby win of the season, and saw them go into the international break in a relatively good spot in the domestic table. Going into the game it looked like Kuko Ziganda would field his strongest lineup possible, but he shocked most fans when he sent out a team that had several stars resting. Fearing that the team’s issues away from home would come back into play, fans were not optimistic about the outcome but the Lions played very well and deservedly won the match. With that being said, let’s take a look at the talking points from Sunday’s Basque Derby victory at Ipurua.
Kuko Ziganda Trusts His Squad
Over the past few years we have all seen an Athletic side that relied heavily on the same players every game. If someone like Beñat was not in the lineup the team was hardly able to win a match and that caused Ernesto Valverde to rarely rotate his players. This season we are seeing a change in that mindset. Kuko Ziganda has said many times that everyone in the team is important and he trusts anyone to be put on the pitch and play at a high level. So far he is living up to those words as he has played 23 different players over the first six games of the season.
Rotating a lineup is one thing, but actually getting results while doing so is extremely difficult. Luckily, that is exactly what Ziganda has gotten out of his team. The new manager knows that the same players can’t play every game and that he has to give rest at times. Sunday’s match was a perfect example of this with Iker Muniain, Beñat, and Mikel Balenziaga all out of the starting lineup after two very intense weeks. The fact that Ziganda was able to pick up a victory with several key players sitting out is huge, especially on the road. With a long season ahead, rotating the team now will build confidence throughout the squad and keep the players fresh. This is not an easy thing to do and Ziganda is excelling at it to start his tenure as manager.
Iñaki Williams Is Still At His Best On The Right Wing
Iñaki Williams wants to be the next Number 9 at Athletic Club whenever Aritz Aduriz decides to finally retire. It’s been his dream since he was a kid and all through his time at Lezama he played heavily in that role and was a success. That being said, right now the 23-year-old is still at his best when playing on the right-wing. Sunday’s match against Eibar may very well have been his best game of the season as he was able to cause all sorts of problems down the wing and assist on Aduriz’s winning goal. For some reason, he just hasn’t played at the same level when he’s been the target man.
Perhaps it all comes down to opportunities and repetition. Williams hasn’t gotten a lot of chances in place of Aduriz and maybe that lack of consistency is why he has failed to play his best football there. On the other hand, maybe his game is just better suited for a winger role in the Primera. His pace and dribbling make him such a dangerous attacker and he has become so good at using the space out wide. Regardless of what the reason or issue is, Iñaki is still at his best when on the right wing. When he plays centrally, or not at all, the entire attacking model is altered and the system seems to change drastically. The Lezama product still may be the Number 9 of the future, but that isn’t the case right now.
Kepa Deserves To Be Paid
Understandably, fans are very concerned over the future of Kepa Arrizabalaga. The keeper is out of contract at the end of this season and will be free to negotiate with other teams in January if he doesn’t sign a renewal. So far the biggest obstacle to an extension is Kepa’s desired wages. The club wants to place a large release clause on the 22-year-old and the player wants his wages to reflect that number. Rumors have surfaced that Kepa is requesting €3 million per year with a release clause of €60 million. That would make him one of the highest paid players on the team and most fans don’t see any problem with this at all.
Even before Sunday’s match it was clear that Athletic needs to pay Kepa what he is worth and seal his future at the San Mamés. He is already one of the best keepers in all of Europe and could go on to be Athletic’s shot stopper for the next decade, and perhaps even longer. Whatever doubts that remained were shattered on Sunday when the Lezama product singlehandedly won the game against Eibar. Three times the home side should have found the back of the next but somehow Kepa was able to react quick enough to stop the goal. Through the first two games of the La Liga season he has yet to surrender a goal and has looked absolutely flawless. It’s been obvious for a while but the win over Eibar settled it, it’s time to pay Kepa Arrizabalaga. He’s earned it and he’s worth it.