Struggling Sabin Merino And Asier Villalibre Are In Direct Competition For A Place In Berizzo’s Squad

Sabin Merino

Sabin Merino has put himself in scoring chances, but has failed to find the back of the net (AC)

Most fans seem to have their minds made up. They want Sabin Merino to leave Athletic and for Asier Villalibre to get minutes somewhere else. Neither striker has played well over the last two years and they have struggled to score goals this preseason so it only makes sense for fans to lose patience. However, the situation doesn’t seem to be as simple as that. In fact, it appears as though the two are in direct competition with one another for a place in the team.

Sabin Merino has caught the most negativity this summer due to the fact that he has yet to score a goal. He had four great chances saved against Barakaldo on Sunday, which was definitely noticed by the fans, but Berizzo did praise him after the game for putting himself in position to score. In fact, if he had scored maybe two of the opportunities it would have likely been a completely different conversation. The 26-year-old has actually done well with his link up play, positioning, and movement but none of that matters if he can’t put the ball in the back of the net.

Meanwhile, Villalibre has failed to play with consistency while on loan the last two years and looks to be a step behind his teammates so far this summer. He has also struggled in front of net despite having great opportunities in the first two friendlies. When it comes to scoring goals the pair have been disappointing, but that doesn’t mean that they will both be leaving the club.

Asier Villalibre

Asier Villalibre still looks to be a step behind his teammates (AC)

Other than Aritz Aduriz, Sabin Merino and Asier Villalibre are the only ones who have played at striker during the club’s first two preseason friendlies. In fact, they are the only ones who have even been practicing in the position during daily training sessions. Fans will be quick to look to Iñaki Williams and Gorka Guruzeta, but they have not spent any time in the striker role under Berizzo, either in friendlies or in training.

Unless something changes over the next few weeks the main conclusion is that one of Merino and Villalibre will be kept in the team to provide depth behind Aduriz. That may be hard for some fans to swallow, but that is the way things have been trending over the first two weeks of the preseason. Of course, if both strikers continue to struggle in front of goal the manager could look for alternatives. Just because Iñaki and Guruzeta haven’t trained at striker doesn’t mean they won’t, but right now it is clear that Berizzo is going to give Merino and Villalibre every opportunity to earn a place in the team.

The next few weeks will be crucial for both strikers if they want to continue playing for Athletic. Every passing game that they struggle to score will push them one step closer to the exit door. If Berizzo begins to give other players chances up front it will be their writing on the wall, but for now they are in direct competition with each other. With 30 players currently in the squad more cuts are coming as Berizzo looks to trim the team down to 24 or 25 players, just don’t be surprised if Sabin Merino or Asier Villalibre are still around when the season begins.

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