Three Lezama Stars Who Are Making Their Case For The Athletic First Team
Lezama is the lifeblood of Athletic Club. Every year young Lions take one step closer to their childhood dreams of playing at the San Mamés and, for some, that dream is eventually realized. This season Unai Nuñez and Iñigo Córdoba were both promoted from Bilbao Athletic and have gone on to have regular roles in the first team. Before them it was Yeray, Kepa Arrizabalaga, and Mikel Vesga. It is a familiar story that always has fans looking forward to the next young stars that will take that step in their careers.
This summer will give that opportunity to a select few once again and they will be looking to do everything possible to earn a permanent promotion. The squad will already be full going into the new season so it won’t be an easy task to break into the senior group, but the chance will be given. With that being said, let’s take a look at three players who appear to be on the fast track to the first team.
Fans should be very familiar with Andoni Lopez by this point. Last season he was promoted to Bilbao Athletic and was expected to compete for minutes, but instead he immediately took over the starting role and went on to compete in 35 matches. He was the picture of consistency and that has carried over into his second campaign for the reserve side. This season the left-back has featured in all but two matches and has once again been a major part of the team.
The 21-year-old is a solid defender that doesn’t play a flashy style of football, but rather an efficient one. He reads the game well and knows when to stay back in defense and when he can surge forward to join the attack. When in defense he is physical, a strong tackler, and is exceptional at winning back possession due to his ability to position himself in ways that cut off passing lanes. Lopez is also good on the ball and can pass the ball well. The Lezama product is known for rarely making mistakes, which is a hard thing to do at his age.
Lopez was handed his first team debut in early February in a 2-0 loss to Girona, showing that he has definitely made his presence felt in the reserve team. Many thought he would actually spend last summer with the first team, but that didn’t happen. So, it seems almost a sure thing that he will finally get that chance one year later. He has certainly earned the opportunity, but it will be difficult to carve out a place in the first team. Mikel Balenziaga, Enric Saborit, and the incoming Cristian Ganea will all be standing in his way.
Gorka Guruzeta is the name that everyone expects to see on this list. Last season the young forward scored seven goals in 32 games with Bilbao Athletic, showing a lot of promise for the future. This year, he has definitely taken an even larger step forward. In 30 games to this point, he has found the back of the next 13 times and should increase that tally over the coming weeks. He has proven to have a serious eye for goal, a knack for being in the right place to get good chances, and the ability to score with either foot or in the air.
Although he is much better as a striker, Guruzeta has been playing mostly on the left-wing for Bilbao Athletic. Regardless, he has been exceptional and arguably the team’s best player this season. The 21-year-old is a tall and strong forward who also boasts a powerful shot and the ability to hold up play. He can use pace and quickness at times, but his most dominant attacking traits are his positioning and aerial prowess. When Guruzeta is in the box, he is at his absolute best. Some have gone as far to compare him to Aritz Aduriz due to their similarities in style of play.
Unlike Andoni Lopez, Guruzeta stands a much better chance at carving out a first team role. Athletic has a major hole behind Aduriz and Iñaki Williams has looked unable to function properly as a striker the when filling in. Sabin Merino and Kike Sola also look to be out of favor at the San Mamés so a spot is there for the taking. Guruzeta recently signed a contract renewal with Athletic that guarantees that he will spend the summer with the first team so there is a lot for fans to be excited about.
Is Peru Nolaskoain the next big thing to come out of Lezama? The signs have pointed to that statement being true for a few years now. Last year, at just 17 years old, he was promoted to Bilbao Athletic. It took a while for him to find his footing for the reserve side, but he would go on to make 22 starts and looked much more comfortable towards the end of the season. This year it is clear that he has adjusted to the competition. Compared to last year’s lone goal, Nolaskoain’s currently tally for this season is currently at four. The 19-year-old is the only player to have started every single league game and he has been stunning.
Naturally an attacking midfielder, Nolaskoain has plenty of strengths to get fans excited. He is a capable creator with a gift for passing, but he is also strong at taking on defenders and scoring chances for himself. This season he has also featured at times in a double pivot to take advantage of his work rate and the teenager hasn’t missed a beat. Learning this new position has also seen him become more adept at controlling games from the midfield and reading playing which will go a long way whenever he reaches the top flight.
Most pundits agree that Nolaskoain has earned the chance to train with the first team this summer. That being said, it may still be a way off before he can take ownership of a regular place in the team. While it is true that there is little depth behind Raul Garcia, Athletic does have more than a handful of midfielders while Iker Muniain is capable of playing centrally as well. The Lezama starlet will have to do a lot if he wants to be promoted, but if he isn’t you can bet that his name will continually be brought up. With Nolaskoain the question is no longer if, but when.
As always, there is a ton of talent in Lezama that has the future looking bright. Apart from the names listed above, others like Iñigo Vicente, Jesus Areso, Jon Sillero, and the like are all starting to make their cases as well. Reaching the first team is not an easy thing by any means, but it is the dream of everyone at Lezama. With a coaching change expected, this is going to be a very interesting summer at Athletic Club and Guruzeta, Nolaskoain, and Andoni Lopez will be looking to take advantage of the changes.