Athletic’s Dynamic Midfield And Other Takeaways From The Euskal Herria Txapela Victory
Athletic Club’s Euskal Herria Txapela victory over Real Sociedad was a spectacle for the fans and the first real showing of Eduardo Berizzo’s team. The Lions dominated the match from start to finish and were able to expertly utilize their high press to cause problems for their opponents. There were several major talking point after the final whistle sounded, but nothing was as gripping as the dynamic midfield play.
Berizzo opted for a midfield trio of Iker Muniain, Unai López, and Dani García with the first two operating in attacking roles while García functioned as the pivot. To say it worked well would be an understatement. García’s ability to win possession, recycle possession, and totally control the midfield freed up Muniain and López to create chances and pull the strings behind the forwards. They were arguably the two most impactful players on the pitch and Real Sociedad struggled to deal with both at the same time.
The manager said after the game that the goal was to neutralize Real Sociedad’s double pivot. Athletic knew that if they allowed Asier Illarramendi and Mikel Merino to get into a rhythm it would be hard to win the game and the Lions did exactly what was needed to dominate the center of the pitch. It’s becoming clear that Unai López is a real option to feature in the starting lineup at the beginning of the season.
With the midfield in control of the game, the wings were able to take advantage of space and attack from wide. Iñaki Williams and Yuri Berchiche caused constantly problems on the left, while Markel Susaeta looked better than he’s been in a few years as he linked up with Oscar De Marcos on the right. Ever since Berizzo first tested Iñaki on the left he’s been more dangerous cutting in on his strong foot and has shown more confidence. His goal against Real Sociedad was the perfect example of his being able to run into the box and put a good shot on goal.
Saturday’s match also saw Peru Nolaskoain continue at center-back and he’s performed better with every passing game. The 19-year-old was calm and comfortable beside Unai Nuñez and dealt with every attack that came his way. His strength, ability on the ball, and understanding of the game has allowed him to transition to the new position which is looking like a masterstroke of genius from Berizzo. The manager said after the game that the Lezama product will stay in the squad and split time with Bilbao Athletic when he isn’t needed in the first team.
So far this summer the only major weakness in the team has been the space left in the final third. With so many player committed to attacking and pressing opponents have been able to capitalize on the counter attack and Berizzo has admitted that the issue needs to be improved. Real Sociedad were able to play three promising through balls after winning back possession, but the Lions did well to deal with the chances. Although there were still moments when Athletic left too much space at the back it was clear that the team has taken steps in the right direction.
The Basque Federation will also be happy with Saturday’s match after seeing the first installment of the Cup abandoned last summer when an Alavés player attacked the referee. This match went ahead without any issues, even though there was drama surrounding the referee appointment. Having the two biggest Basque clubs face off was also an added bonus.
Winning the Basque Cup is a big deal for Athletic even though it was still technically a preseason friendly. The arrival of Eduardo Berizzo brought excitement and expectations back to the San Mamés and so far this summer things have been highly successful. Toto has the team playing with a defined style and has been able to get the best out of his squad. With the La Liga season starting in just two weeks Athletic are close to firing on all cylinders.