Unai Nuñez Made The Most Of His Opportunity Against Atlético Madrid
It’s been a difficult season for Unai Nuñez. Without many minutes to go around and Yeray playing at a very high level the 21-year-old has rarely seen the field. That all changed when he was thrust back into the spotlight against Espanyol when Yeray was forced to leave the match injured early in the first half. Nuñez took his place and performed well, but the real test came five days later when Athletic traveled to face Atlético Madrid.
Nuñez was inserted into the starting lineup for just the second time all season and was tasked with defending a physical and dangerous Atlético attack. Athletic may have lost the game 3-2 in stoppage time, but Nuñez definitely made the most of his opportunity and was arguably the best player on the pitch for the Zurigorri.
From a defensive point of view Unai Nuñez was flawless. He may have only had one key tackle in the game, but really made his presence felt with excellent positioning. Throughout the match the 21-year-old made 5 interceptions and 6 recoveries, all while being tasked with marking attackers anytime they came near the box. He also cleared the ball six times with four of those moments coming after he forced an attacker to lose possession.
Nuñez played a vital role in the aerial game which was paramount against a team like Atlético. He won 8 headers, more than any other player on the pitch. Throughout the match he spent time marking Diego Godin, Antoine Griezmann, Diego Costa, and Nicola Kalinic which actually forced Atlético to target other players during set pieces.
One of the weaknesses of Nuñez’s game since making his first team debut has been his ability to play with the ball at his feet. He’s been known to give away possession in dangerous areas at times, but that wasn’t the case at the Wanda Metropolitano. The defender completed 86.7% of his passes, secondly only to Mikel San José who completed 87.5 percent. Nuñez almost had an assist as well after a brilliant run into the box where he played a great pass to Iñaki Williams. Somehow Jan Oblak was able to make a remarkable save.
Unai Nuñez was a difference maker against Atlético Madrid and that cannot be overlooked. Yeray likely won’t be cleared to play by time Athletic host Getafe on 25 November and that means that Nuñez should keep his place in the starting lineup. Moving forward it will still be up to Eduardo Berizzo to determine how to best manage the minutes for both defenders, but it’s clear that Nuñez deserves a more prominent role in the team after such an impressive performance.