Andoni López Continues To Shine As A Center-Back
There haven’t really been many unexpected changes or alterations under new manager Eduardo Berizzo. The team is being pushed to play his intense attacking style, as expected, and his coaching philosophy is the same as its always been, demanding perfection from everyone. However, there have been a few surprising transitions and one player is definitely reaping the benefits.
Andoni López has been exceptional for Bilbao Athletic over the last two years and came into the summer expecting to compete with Cristian Ganea and Mikel Balenziaga for a place in the squad. Instead, the 22-year-old has been training as a left center-back. At first the move seemed to be temporary due to the fact there are only four natural center-backs in the team and Berizzo needed players to fill in during drills. Two weeks into the preseason and that isn’t the case; Toto has more serious plans.
López has continued to train as a center-back and even played in the position during the first two preseason friendlies. To put it simply, he’s been flawless.
In the first game against Amorebieta he was paired alongside Unai Nuñez and looked comfortable and confident. Lopez understood his positioning, won all of his headers, and used his strength well. The Lezama graduate was also great on the ball, which isn’t surprising considering that he has always shown the ability to join the attack when playing as a left-back. He looked natural and composed in a central role, but went relatively unnoticed due to the solid performances from the attacking players. As has always been the case with López, he was quietly exceptional.
Against Barakaldo he was paired alongside Yeray and had a bit more to deal with. López was called upon to make two tackles, succeeding at both, and continued to show composure and surety with the ball at his feet. He communicated well with Yeray and Yuri Berchiche, who started at left-back, leaving the feeling that he has grown rather comfortable in his new position. Once again most of the focus was on the forwards, but López did not put a foot wrong.
After the 5-0 win over Barakaldo manager Eduardo Berizzo said in his press conference that Xabi Etxeita is expected to leave the club. If that happens it would leave Athletic with only three center-backs, and while the manager said he feels comfortable with that number there is a good chance that López could earn a regular place in the team. His versatility, ability to play the ball, and quick transition to center-back may actually see the 22-year-old officially promoted and playing at the San Mamés this season.
Peru Nolaksoain has also been training as a center-back and looked much better on Sunday after an average showing against Amorebieta. The manager admitted that there is a possibility that he could keep one, or even both, of the young stars in the team for the upcoming season. López and Nolaskoain are likely competing against each other for a place in Berizzo’s team so the next few weeks will be vitally important for the pair. Based on what they have shown so far there is reason to be excited.