Muniain Magic And Switching Wings | Analyzing Athletic Club’s 5-0 Win Over Barakaldo

Iker Muniain

Iker Muniain put in a strong performance in midfield (AC)

Athletic Club cruised to a 5-0 win over Barakaldo on Sunday in what was the second victory in preseason action. After leaving behind the star players in the first match against Amorebieta, Eduardo Berizzo brought them along to Lesesarre and they dominated the first half. The new system was in full effect and there were some important lessons to be learned from the wonderful performance.

As expected, Iker Muniain featured as the Mediapunta where he has been training all summer. Berizzo has made it clear that he believes Muniain’s natural role is that of playmaker and the manager plans on utilizing him there. The 25-year-old was sensational against Barakaldo, pulling the strings in attack and constantly creating chances. Playing in front of Dani García and Mikel San José allowed him the freedom to move where needed and he ended the first half with a goal and an assist.

Muniain formed a dangerous trio with new signing Yuri Berchiche and Iñaki Williams, who was playing on the left wing. Berizzo has worked this summer with Iñaki and Iñigo Córdoba on opposites sides to take advantage of their abilities to cut inside on their stronger foot and it seems to be working well. Iñaki was a threat the whole time he was on the pitch and even scored a goal off of a wonderful assist from Dani García. Of course, Aritz Aduriz looked as dangerous as ever.

Berizzo’s desire to have wingers cutting inside while fullbacks run into space was definitely utilized to the fullest. When Muniain would play the ball out wide Iñaki would dribble into the box which left plenty of room for Berchiche to operate on the side. The trio would then form a triangle and rotate positions as the defense found it nearly impossible to mark all three. It may have only been against an opponent from the Segunda B, but it looked promising for the season to come.

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A switch to left wing could lead to more goals for Iñaki Williams (AC)

Oscar De Marcos started at right-back and seemed a natural fit in Berizzo’s system. He combined well with Gorka Guruzeta, who also scored a goal, and the two were able to stretch Barakaldo’s defense which opened up space for attacking runs. After a few years of seeing Athletic struggle to score goals it was exciting to see all of the forwards perform well and find the back of the net in different ways.

The first half also saw Andoni López paired alongside Yeray in the middle of the defense. López looked great again playing as a left center-back and is likely competing for a spot in the team with Xabi Etxeita on his way out. In front of the defense Dani García and Mikel San José did well to win back possession and function as anchors from which the Lions organized their attacks. Often San José would drop deeper, almost as a third center-back, while García would play further ahead as a pivot. This allowed the fullbacks to join the attack and freed up Muniain to create. For the second consecutive match Dani García was arguably the most influential player on the field.

Athletic were not nearly as sharp in the second half, but they were still the stronger team. Ander Iturraspe acted as a single pivot behind Unai López and Oihan Sancet who combined well to create some chances for the forwards. Meanwhile, Cristian Ganea and Iñigo Lekue continued to function as attacking fullbacks which was a lot for Barakaldo to deal with in defense.

Sabin Merino

Sabin Merino had chances to score but couldn’t find the back of the net (AC)

Iñigo Córdoba played on the right while Asier Villalibre and Sabin Merino split time between left-wing and striker. The pair had another difficult night as they failed to score despite having five clear chances. Merino had four looks in front of goal with only the keeper to beat and every shot was saved. Likewise, Villalibre was in the same position but was not able to finish the chance. After the game Berizzo said that he liked how well Merino put himself into scoring positions. If he had finished two of those opportunities fans might be having a different discussion.

Other than Aduriz, only Sabin Merino and Villalibre have spent time playing as the striker over the first two friendlies. With the need for depth one of them could absolutely stay in the team this season which means that they both need to step up and start scoring goals. A lot of fans have been calling for Gorka Guruzeta to be used up top but he hasn’t trained there at all this summer and many coaches in Lezama have said that he projects better as a winger or secondary striker in the Primera. If Guruzeta does start getting chances at striker that narrative could change.

Despite not scoring any goals in the second half Athletic did create several great chances which shouldn’t go unnoticed. Berizzo’s team is playing with a defined style and looking to attack in numbers every chance they get. The defense has also performed well, but has yet to be truly tested. Now the Lions will travel to Holland on Monday for their week-long training trip before competing in a tournament in Germany hosted by Duisburg. There is plenty of excitement surrounding the team at the moment, but the real work is just beginning.

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