Asier Villalibre Making The Most Of His Opportunities Since Returning To Bilbao Athletic
It may be difficult to believe, but Asier Villalibre is still only 20 years old. The striker made his first team debut back in late 2016 and many expected him to become a regular face in the senior squad. However, things did not go his way. After loan spells with Numancia, Real Valladolid, and Lorca the Lezama product found it difficult to score goals and his confidence began to plummet.
Since leaving on loan in 2016 Villalibre has looked like a shell of the player that was lighting up the Segunda B with Bilbao Athletic. His deadly finishing in front of goal and impressive positioning were lacking and it was beginning to look like his chances of playing at the San Mamés again were dwindling. Now things have taken a turn back in the right direction since the club made a difficult decision.
After training with the first team all summer Athletic chose to send Villalibre back to Bilbao Athletic for this season. The move was, of course, questionable initially. The player had spent two years in the Segunda so going back down a division was concerning, especially considering that he had some offers to leave on loan. Still, the club decided that the best thing for Villalibre to regain his confidence was to stay home and his age allowed that to be a realistic option.
Athletic made the same decision last summer when they sent Unai López on loan to Rayo Vallecano instead of keeping him in the first division. That move seems to have worked perfectly for the midfielder, and Villalibre may be following suit. The striker has started in all three of Bilbao Athletic’s matches to begin the season and has been in fine form which is definitely encouraging.
In the first game it took Villalibre some time to find his rhythm, after not having trained with Bilbao Athletic very long, but as the match progressed he was able to put himself into dangerous positions. He was able to score his first goal of the season late in the game when the Cachorros forced a turnover and found Villalibre in the box. The finish was calm and well placed.
Bilbao Athletic then played Gimnástica who put in a strong defensive performance that saw the match end scoreless. Villalibre was dangerous again, but no one was able to find the back of the net. Through two games the 20-year-old was looking more comfortable and his confidence was starting to grow, but it was last weekend’s 3-1 win over Amorebieta that really put Villalibre back in the spotlight.
Villalibre had a handful of great chances in front of goal that he wasn’t able to finish due to some great saves and blocked shots, but his positioning was sublime. He would finally be repaid for his efforts when the goalkeeper spilled a shot from Iñigo Vicente that Villalibre was able to finish off. He capped off a brace in the second half when he was able to beautifully head home a cross from the left wing. Through three games the 20-year-old has scored three goals and that is reason enough for optimism.
Honestly, Villalibre should be scoring these goals and playing at a high level. After a few years facing stronger competition he is expected to do well with Bilbao Athletic. That being said, his confidence has been the biggest thing holding him back and that already looks to be disappearing. The striker is taking his chances and showing all the qualities that made him an exciting young player just two years ago. In fact, he’s played well enough that Berizzo called up up to train with the first team again on Monday. It will be interesting to see how the rest of the season plays out, but for now Asier Villalibre is definitely making the most of this opportunity.