International Break Comes When Athletic Club Needs It Most
Athletic Club are seven games into the La Liga season and things haven’t gone as planned. With only one win and two disappointing defeats the Basques currently find themselves 16th in the table and could fall even farther before the weekend comes to a close. After an embarrassing 3-1 loss to Real Sociedad at the San Mamés the international break couldn’t have come at a better time.
Several issues have plagued the team to this point. To start, the squad has not been able to avoid the injury bug. Iago Herrerín and Iñigo Lekue have yet to play a single minute due to injuries, although the goalkeeper was finally back in the squad on Friday. At the same time Iñigo Martinez and Aritz Aduriz have both missed time with the striker having only started one game all year.
To make matters worse, Athletic have struggled to score goals. This issue has been magnified by the fact that Aduriz has rarely been available. Despite controlling possession and winning the ball back with ease, the Lions have not been able to play direct football in a way that has led to creativity in and around the box. This has led to opponents patiently waiting in defense and then hitting on the counter.
For all of Athletic’s focus on intense pressing, the team has really struggled to transition properly when facing a counter attack. Often the players are caught too far up the field and are desperately trying to track back to stop an opponent who is running at goal. This is certainly a by-product of playing an intense pressing style of football, but Berizzo’s side must do better when they make mistakes and lose the ball.
Above all else, the biggest problem that has led to the poor start are the mistakes. Leaving Isco alone in the box cost Athletic two points against Real Madrid. Markel Susaeta’s red card did the same against Real Betis. Then the team made three errors against Real Sociedad which were all turned into goals. It’s easy to say that if the players didn’t make these mistakes the season would look very different and that is possible. Still, you are what your record says you are and right now Athletic are in a very bad place. In fact, the team had earned more points and surrendered less goals under Kuko Ziganda through the same amount of matches last season.
The good news is that this team has done a lot of things right. Their pressing has led to countless turnovers and they have been able to dominate possession in almost every game. If the team can just find a way to score more goals and stop making mistakes that lead to lethal counter attacks they should be able to get the season back on the right track. Eduardo Berizzo has a lot of work to do over the next two months if he is going to right the ship, but thankfully the international break has come at the perfect time.