Three Areas Athletic Club Must Improve Moving Forward
It has been an interesting start to the season for Athletic Club under the management of Eduardo Berizzo. The Argentine has brought his intense, pressing style of football to the team and, for the most part, there has been plenty of excitement. The Lions started the year strong but now find themselves with just 6 points from 5 matches and some weaknesses have already come to light. Here are three areas that the team must improve moving forward.
Turnovers And Counterattacks
Berizzo’s style of football is very simple to understand. Athletic aim to control possession and press with a high line when they don’t have the ball. For the most part their pressing has yielded good results such as the first half against Real Betis who continually turned the ball over in dangerous areas. However, teams like Villarreal have used it to their advantage by patiently waiting to counter attack which has proved difficult to play against.
When Athletic have given the ball away in the final third it has led to quite a few dangerous counters. Sometimes the Lions have been able to use their pressure to quickly regain possession, but when that doesn’t happen it leaves the defense vulnerable. The simple answer for the team is to not lose the ball. Of course, that’s easier said than done. To score goals players have to take risks with dribbling, crossing, and passing. Realistically the most important thing is for the team to improve their transition from offense to defense. They must recognize when their pressure is getting beaten so that they can regroup instead of allowing a counter attack to form.
Playing Without Dani García
There is no question about it. Dani García has been the most influential player for Athletic this season by far. His ability to command the midfield, win the ball, keep possession, and organize the team is irreplaceable. Athletic have been highly impressive when he is on the field, but that creates a problem when he isn’t playing like in the match against Villarreal.
Not only did Athletic struggle to keep their defensive integrity, they also lacked the ability to create solid chances in front of goal. García’s presence on the field allows players like Iker Muniain, Raúl García, and Beñat to do more and that was missing with Ander Iturraspe on the field. The midfield is completely different with the former Eibar captain out of the lineup which requires attention.
Ander Iturraspe and Mikel San José are not the same player as Dani García. They may boast defensive strength, but they don’t have the same capabilities when it comes to having the ball at their feet and reading the game. This led to several issues against Villarreal and it is up to Eduardo Berizzo to figure out a way to keep the team firing on all cylinders when García isn’t available. Athletic may have to alter their way of playing, but it is clear that Dani García is an irreplaceable player.
The biggest reason Athletic have dropped points this season has been due to individual mistakes. Real Madrid scored a second half goal to earn a draw at the San Mamés because Isco was left free in the box. Real Betis mounted a comeback from down 2-0 because Markel Susaeta picked up a red card. Villarreal changed the game by Pablo Fornals catching Unai Simón off of his line. If even one of those mistakes doesn’t happen Athletic could realistically have at least 2 more points right now. But the mistakes did happen.
As a whole, Athletic have shown much more good than bad so far this season. They’ve been able to control games through their midfield play, which was the biggest weakness last year, and they have created scoring chances. The Lions could also have two more wins right now if it wasn’t for individual mistakes that changed the course of a game. Mistakes are part of football and it happens to everyone from time to time, but if Athletic want to realize their potential they have to start limiting their errors on an individual and team level.
There are, of course, other things that the team needs to improve after five games. The crossing could be better, as well as the finishing in front of goal and organization on set pieces. Still, the three issues listed above have contributed the most to Athletic dropping points this season. If the Basque giants are able to correct these problem areas they should be able to start picking up more points and challenging for their place in the European zone of the La Liga table.