Eduardo Berizzo’s Three Keys To A Successful First Season At Athletic Club
New Athletic manager Eduardo Berizzo has brought excitement and expectations back to the San Mamés. When the Argentine was presented on Thursday he said all the right things and made it clear that he is coming to the club with the goal of winning games and defending the values that Athletic hold so dear. Although he refused to give his opinion on the disappointing season under Kuko Ziganda, it was clear that he understood the fans were not happy and that he would need to get the team back on the winning path as quickly as possible.
Because of Presidential Elections taking place next summer, Berizzo was only able to sign a one-year contract. He hopes to earn a longer deal, but to do that he will have to lead the Lions to success in his first season. Expectations are high and his campaign will be watched closely by the club and fans who are ready to put last season behind them. Everyone will, of course, have their own ideas of what a successful season will look like, but in reality it will all come down to whether or not the Lions are able to challenge for European qualification and bring the magic back to the San Mamés. With that being said, here are three keys for Eduardo Berizzo to have a successful first season at Athletic.
Solidify The Midfield
During Athletic Club’s incredible four-year run under Ernesto Valverde, the midfield stood out as the team’s biggest strength. The Lions were able to keep possession, win back the ball when they lost it, and tended to dominate the center of the pitch. Players like Mikel San José stood out for his ability to be a force that opponents couldn’t get through, while Beñat was freed up to just focus on creating chances behind the attackers. When the midfield was flowing right, Athletic were extremely hard to beat.
Under Kuko Ziganda that all changed. He asked both players in his double pivot to be able to switch between attacking and defending and it really affected the cohesion in the team. San José and Ander Iturraspe were often playing too far up the field, while Beñat was limited in his ability to act as a orchestrator. In fact, Mikel Rico is the only one who seemed to thrive in the system due to the fact that he has always been a box-to-box midfielder of sorts. Honestly, it just didn’t work out and the midfield became the biggest issue for Athletic every week.
Athletic understand the need to set the problem straight and will be announcing the signing of Dani Garcia soon. The former Eibar Captain knows how to lead the midfield and disrupt opponent’s attacks, which will bring needed stability to the team. The Lions are also pushing hard to sign Mikel Merino, who would provide more quality, as well as Ander Herrera who they know will be extremely difficult to land.
If Eduardo Berizzo is going to have success at Athletic and win games, it will have to start in the midfield. As a manager he has always used a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 formation and tends to like using one defensive midfielder whose goal is to stay back and protect possession and the defense. That is exactly what Valverde did with San José and if Berizzo can get him and Iturraspe back to playing their best it will go a long way. Athletic have always played their best when the attacking players were free to focus on creating and that idea certainly fits Berizzo’s system.
Build A More Dynamic Attack
Even with a strong midfield, Valverde’s teams found it difficult to score goals. Most of the offense flowed through Aritz Aduriz, with players like Raúl García chipping in here and there. Athletic’s difficulties in front of goal cost them too many times and was an even bigger issue under Ziganda, although the problem was also caused by the troubles in midfield. The fact of the matter is that Aduriz needs to get more help and shouldn’t be expected to shoulder the burden of scoring by himself.
This is an area where Berizzo should be able to influence the biggest change. His teams at Celta Vigo and Sevilla were known for being lethal offensively, even if it cost the defense at times. He loves to play an aggressive style of football that focused on pressing high up the field and forcing opponents to make mistakes. If he can get his players at Athletic to play the same way it will definitely lead to more goals and more involvement from those not named Aritz Aduriz.
If Eduardo Berizzo brings a more dynamic attack to Athletic it will definitely turn into immediate success. For that to happen he must foster more creativity in the offense and find a way to get more out of Iñaki Williams. The 23-year-old has so much potential that is still waiting to be unleashed. His pace and ability to beat defenders is unrivaled in the team, but his finishing still needs work. Berizzo has had tremendous success with players like Iñaki and if he can replicate that it would take Athletic Club to the next level.
Create Consistency In The Squad
By far the greatest problem under Kuko Ziganda was the fact that Athletic just could not find any consistency in the team. Even when the Lions would dominate a match and look like they were finally playing their best football, they would be embarrassed in the next fixture. No matter what changes or alterations took place, there was no consistency and that alone cost the Basques more points than anything else that happened over the course of the season.
To be honest, Valverde’s teams also lacked consistency at times. During his four years in charge the Lions may have made the San Mamés a fortress, but they often struggled to play at the same level on the road. It was almost as if a different switch was turned on during home games and left off when Athletic were in another stadium. The argument could be made that it held the team back and is still something that must be corrected.
This could be the biggest factor that determines whether or not Eduardo Berizzo has a successful first year at Athletic. In a way, he is lucky that he won’t have the pressure of competing in Europe because he will be able to focus solely on domestic matches and will have more time to prepare for fixtures. Not having to rotate a team as much will allow him to integrate his ideas easier and could lead to needed cohesion. Being the demanding coach that he is, Berizzo will not accept his team lacking consistency which makes this an interesting area to watch as the season unfolds.
In his presentation he covered the keys to success when he described the type of football he wants to play saying, “My idea is to play an attacking game, in control of possession, with a dynamic team that moves and can anticipate attacks. If you don’t have the ball you must recover it immediately. I believe in the collective idea of football and a team that plays together”. On the surface it already looks as though he knows what improvements must be made.
Eduardo Berizzo is going to be judged on whether or not he can get Athletic back to playing great football at the San Mamés and challenging for European qualification. For that to happen, he will have to improve the midfield and attack while also creating consistency in a team that desperately lacked it over the past 12 months. Toto has studied every game from last season and knows what he must do to achieve success at Athletic Club. He has been preparing for the last 2 months and it will all begin when preseason training starts next month.