Sabin Merino, Villalibre, Lekue, And Andoni López Could Leave Athletic As Berizzo Trims His Squad
Athletic Club have reached the point in the preseason where it is time to start making difficult decisions about the squad. Eduardo Berizzo currently has 30 players in his team and will need to cut five to get down to the 25-man roster that he desires. Over the course of the last three weeks there have been many hints as to who is making their way towards to the exit door and it seems as though the coaching staff have already narrowed down the list.
According to a report from Nika Cuenca of Fiebre Rojiblanca there are four players who are on the exit ramp – Iñigo Lekue, Sabin Merino, Asier Villalibre, and Andoni López. Berizzo only used 22 players during the Traditions Cup last weekend and, adding in Iñigo Martinez and Raúl García, conclusions can be drawn from that.
Due to the arrivals of Ander Capa, Yuri Berchiche, and Cristian Ganea it will be extremely difficult for Lekue to enjoy regular minutes. He does have the versatility that Berizzo likes in his players, but he did not feature during the Traditions Cup which has led to the belief that he could become excess. So far several clubs from the Primera have expressed interest in signing the 25-year-old although the manager has yet to make a decision on his place in the team.
Sabin Merino and Asier Villalibre have been given every chance to earn a place in the team behind Aritz Aduriz, but both have failed to play well in the minutes they were handed. The duo found it difficult to put the ball in the back of the net and Berizzo opted to use Iñaki Williams as the striker in Duisburg. Merino has a few suitors in Spain, while Villalibre is expected to return to Bilbao Athletic where he can look to regain his confidence.
When the decision was made to allow Xabi Etxeita to leave on loan, Berizzo gave Andoni López and Peru Nolaskoain the chance to battle for the fourth center-back spot in the squad. It seemed natural that López would be able to secure the role, but the manager has been impressed with Nolaskoain’s skill on the ball and strength at the back since making the switch to defense. Numancia have been pushing to sign López on loan for almost a year now, but they aren’t alone. After signing a contract renewal the most important thing for the 22-year-old is regular playing time to continue developing.
There is plenty of debate over who will be the fifth player to leave. Mikel Balenziaga has received interest from clubs in Spain, but Nika Cuenca states that Berizzo hasn’t been convinced by Ganea at left-back and views him more as a winger. If that is the case Balenziaga’s place could be safe. Oihan Sancet is the most likely casualty as the 18-year-old could join Bilbao Athletic where he can play a prominent role and face stronger competition. The manager would also like to keep him at the club in case he needed the midfielder at some point during the season.
Over the past few months there have been rumors about the futures of Mikel Rico, Mikel San José, Beñat, and Ander Iturraspe but the midfielders all look safe right now. Berizzo’s system demands a lot out of midfielders and he likes the group that is in place. Meanwhile, Gorka Guruzeta also seems to have convinced the manager with his eye for goal and versatility. The 21-year-old is expected to be officially promoted and have a role in the first team this season.
Athletic will be looking to finalize moves over the next few weeks as the La Liga season moves ever closer. Eduardo Berizzo still has to make the ultimate decisions, but his recent player selections suggest that he already has his 25-man squad in mind. With that said, the picture should become even clearer with Athletic competing in three friendlies this weekend.