Yeray vs Unai Nuñez: Athletic Club’s Wonderful Problem And Stars In The Making
Having a talented young center-back in today’s football is a luxury, but having two is almost unheard of. Athletic Club currently find themselves with a wealth of riches in Yeray and Unai Nuñez with both Lezama graduates showing signs that they could development into truly great players. Add in the fact that Iñigo Martinez played at a high level since arriving at the club in January and the Lions have the center of their defense solidified for the foreseeable future.
The two center-backs have very similar stories. They grew up just ten minutes from each other. Yeray was born in Barakaldo along the River Nervión, while Nuñez was born in the prominent port city of Portugalete. From young ages both were Athletic fans and dreamed of playing at the San Mamés. Nuñez was enrolled at Lezama in 2007 when he was just 10 years old and Yeray arrived a year later at 13. The immediately pair stood out among their peers and showed traits of leadership and hard work that still characterize them today.
Even the way they reached the first team is similar. Both spent only one year with CD Basconia before being promoted to Bilbao Athletic where they made names for themselves and proved they were destined for great things. Two summers ago Yeray was called up to train with the first team during the summer. He was not really expected to earn a place in the team, but he did and it didn’t take long before he was an unrivaled starter. Last summer the same thing happened with Nuñez who convinced the coaches to keep him in the squad and he ended up playing more minutes in La Liga than anyone else at Athletic Club.
Athletic really have something unique in the two center-backs who have become pillars on which the club will build the future. That being said, there is already a lot of debate among fans about who should be starting along Iñigo Martinez. To be fair, there really is no right or wrong answer. Yeray and Nuñez have played at very high levels since being promoted to the first team and either defender is more than capable of holding his own against any opponent. Still, for all of their similarities it is their playing styles that show differences.
To begin with, Yeray’s success has been greatly influenced by his tactical intelligence and ability to read the game. He may not be as physical as Nuñez, but he is able to win back possession due to his positioning and well-timed tackles that can look seamless at times. Don’t be fooled, the 23-year-old isn’t afraid to use his body and will never shy away from a challenge, but he plays his best football when he’s anticipating attacks and causing problems for his opponents.
Meanwhile, Nuñez is a traditional center-back who is tall, strong, and good in the air. He is rarely beaten on crosses and can be a wall that opponents just can’t get around. The 21-year-old has shown the ability to make great tackles and does so with confidence. He may not have quite the same surety with the ball at his feet as Yeray, but he knows how to use his size to his advantage which can really disrupt things for opponents. He’s also shown the ability to read the game well at times, but stands out for his strength and composure above everything else.
Despite playing slightly different styles of football, both center-backs fit into Athletic’s system well. They know how to win possession, are fearless, and don’t make many mistakes. Like every player they have their own individual strengths, but the truth is that Yeray and Nuñez are both well-rounded defenders who already look like veterans despite their young ages. The pair are only going to get better as time passes and their presence in the team gives Athletic security in the backline for years to come.
As the debate continues over who should start alongside Martinez it should be clear by now that both are terrific options and this selection issue is a great problem to have. Some fans have been hoping to see Athletic field three center-backs, but Berizzo put that idea to rest in a recent press conference when he said that he prefers to use the standard four-man backline. At the same time, the new manager admitted that he likes to choose his lineup based on the matchup which means that the pair could split time depending on which strength the team needs to capitalize on. Regardless of how the minutes are handled, Athletic have two young and talented defenders who have the potential to become great players at the San Mamés.