Takeaways From Athletic Club’s 3-0 Win Over Amorebieta
Athletic fans were treated to a show on Thursday when the Lions cruised to a 3-0 win over local Basque club, Amorebieta. It was the first friendly of the preseason and full of excitement, but after the game was over manager Eduardo Berizzo made it clear that drawing conclusions from this one match was premature. He’s right. Athletic were playing against a team from the Segunda B so the lack of difficulty was expected. That being said, there are a few things that can be learned from the match at Urritxe.
When the team sheets were handed out before kickoff everyone got the first look at which numbers the players would be wearing for this particular game. Most were expected – Susaeta in the 14, Ander Iturraspe in the 8, and so on. However, there were a few interesting numbers. To begin with, Unai Nuñez wore the number 3 shirt while Asier Villalibre wore his 12 from last season. Nuñez has actually been wearing the 3 in training this summer which could be a hint that he is making the switch.
All of the young players wore higher numbers, which isn’t surprising, but the new arrivals also had to be assigned. Ander Capa was wearing 25, Dani García wore 21, and Unai López sported the 23 shirt. However, it was the numbers that weren’t worn that could have left the biggest clues.
No one was seen in the number 2 shirt which, in theory, could be going to Yuri Berchiche. At the same time, the number 9 shirt was nowhere to be seen, but Iñaki Williams’ 11 was worn by Iñigo Córdoba. New signing Cristian Ganea took Córdoba’s 28 from last season leaving some to ponder whether or not Iñaki has asked to wear the 9 this season. At the end of the day this could all mean absolutely nothing, or maybe these really are hints about the numbers for this year.
Berizzo’s Defined Style
New manager Eduardo Berizzo has already spoken at length about his style of football and what he expects from the team. Toto prefers to have a direct, possession-based attack, while also utilizing the wings and fullbacks in space. Defensively he demands everyone to press together when the ball is lost and to play with constant intensity.
Going into Thursday’s friendly fans were hoping to at least see something that showed that the team was grasping Berizzo’s system. From what was seen it is safe to say that they are assimilating very well. From the opening whistle the team was constantly looking to attack. After every pass the first look was up the field and there was freedom to be direct and take on defenders. This forced Amorebieta to defend deep and led to a lot of chances.
The goal of having wingers cut inside to take advantage of attacking fullbacks was evident as well. Ander Capa and Markel Susaeta combined to cause some real havoc and Iñigo Lekue and Cristian Ganea was able to do the same in the second half. Interestingly, the strikers weren’t as involved as one would expect but the team’s offensive game as a whole made up for it throughout the match.
A special eye was also set on the midfield which performed terribly last year. Berizzo opted for a defensive midfielder, Dani García in the first half and Ander Iturraspe in the second, that would stay back and act as an anchor while the other two midfielders attacked. However, when the ball was lost and possession couldn’t be won back immediately, the two attacking midfielders would drop back in line with the holding midfielder to give defensive stability. For large parts of the game the entire team moved as one cohesive unit and that was definitely the most important thing to see.
The Magic Midfield
Speaking of the midfield, it was great to see a cohesive unit controlling the game and dictating play. In the first half Dani García was able to perform the role of general as he did with Eibar, freeing up Beñat and Unai López to focus on creating chances for the forwards. Thursday’s match was the most lively Beñat has looked in years which could be a big deal for Athletic this season.
When García was signed the first thought was that he would be able to settle things down and give Athletic a leader in the middle of the field. That is exactly what he showed against Amorebieta. He was rarely seen, as usual, but was doing all of the little things that make the team successful as a whole. Between winning possessing and pulling the strings he may have been the most impactful player on the field.
In the second half things weren’t quite as sharp. Ander Iturraspe was tasked with playing as the pivot and it took him about 15 minutes to find his footing. Mikel Rico looked as energetic as ever, covering a lot of ground and playing from box to box. Gorka Guruzeta began the half as the central attacking midfielder, but found himself drifting to the wing at times with a striker in front of him.
Once Oihan Sancet entered the game, and Guruzeta moved out to the left wing, things really began to click. Iturraspe stayed back to protect the defense while Rico and Sancet provided an extra layer of creativity behind the forwards. The left wing combination of Guruzeta and Cristian Ganea and the right wing unit of Iñigo Córdoba and Iñigo Lekue combined to create dangerous chances all while the midfield cleaned things up and reset the attacks. It may have come against a weak opponent, but the midfield showed signs of real magic playing in Berizzo’s system.
Despite putting on a showcase of collective football, the strikers found it hard to get good looks against Amorebieta. Asier Villalibre started the second half and had two great chances, but was unable to test the keeper. His first opportunity came just two minutes into the game when he got a free, although difficult, header in the box and put the effort over the crossbar. His second look came later in the game when Beñat tried to provide another cross but the ball was just too high for Villalibre to get his head on it despite diving. The effort was there.
Sabin Merino played up top in the second half and combined well with Guruzeta and Córdoba, but struggled to find chances for himself. Truthfully, he seemed to be functioning more as a creator than a goalscorer as his teammates were set up for better opportunities in front of goal. Neither striker played poorly, but other positions on the field definitely performed better.
The Young Guns Put On A Show
The most exciting part of the game was seeing the young stars get the chance to strut their stuff. In the first half Iñigo Vicente was a constant threat on the left wing and showed his ability to create magic with the ball at his feet. He beat his defender four times to set up teammates, including the opening goal scored by Unai López. Speaking of the midfielder, he is still just 22 years old and the argument could be made that he was the best player on the pitch. He dribbled past defenders, made great passes, and almost scored a second goal from outside the box.
An overlooked part of Thursday’s match was the confidence and presence of Andoni López. Even though he was functioning as a center-back he was able to win balls and never looked flustered in defense. His positioning was sublime and he showed excellent communication alongside Unai Nuñez. Being able to play centrally or on the left could make López an even more valuable player down the road.
In the second half Guruzeta and Sancet stood out the most. Guruzeta functioned much better on the wing, being able to cut inside and wreak havoc. Meanwhile, Sancet’s age didn’t show at all as the midfielder was a strong presence behind the forwards and was able to set himself up for a wonderful goal. Peru Nolaskoain did well despite deputizing as a center-back and was even able to score a goal from a corner kick. Iñigo Muñoz didn’t play for very long, but he didn’t look out of sorts.
At the end of the day it was a wonderful night for Athletic. The Lions may have only been playing against a Segunda B team, but they showed a grasp for Berizzo’s system and a desire to succeed. After last year’s disappointing season Thursday’s victory was a breath of fresh air that left fans feeling excited and hopeful for the upcoming campaign, especially considering that the team played without several key players. For now the hard work seems to be paying off, but it is only going to get tougher from here. Eduardo Berizzo is already looking ahead to the next friendly and wants to keep his players focused on the task at hand.