Iker Muniain Puts On A Show Under The Friday Night Lights At San Mamés
When Iker Muniain is feeling it he’s one of the most unstoppable players in football. He was feeling it last night against Espanyol. Sure it was Raúl García who scored the late header and Ibai Gómez who provided the assist, but Muniain was the man of the match and it wasn’t even a question.
Throughout the game Muniain showed no fear when the ball was at his feet. He was constantly taking on defenders who had absolutely no answer of how to stop him. The 26-year-old won a total of 9 dribbles, but that statistic doesn’t even show all the countless times that he held up play by deftly leaning left or right and sending the defender the wrong way.
Part of Muniain’s success against Espanyol came because he was given full freedom to move where he wanted. Once again he started the game on the left wing, although he didn’t spend much time there. Throughout the match he spent a lot of time in a more central role with Yuri Berchiche pushed up on the left wing. This allowed Rául García to operate more as a target man up top which could happen more often moving forward.
The only thing Espanyol could do was either play off of Muniain and give him space or foul him. He was brought down 5 times throughout the match and every foul resulted in a dangerous free kick. Giving Muniain space didn’t work out so well either for the Catalans as Muniain was able to give one key pass and also lined up a shot from outside the box that he tried to curl inside the far post.
“Iker is the different type of player that we have”, manager Gaizka Garitano said after the game. “He’s the one who carries the game because he can drive the ball and take on opponents.” That’s an accurate way to describe what Muniain did against Espanyol. Nearly every time he had the ball he was pulling defenders out of position and making the visitors very uncomfortable. Even when Muniain drifted inside he was still able to keep his positioning when defending and read the game flawlessly.
It’s a shame that Athletic weren’t able to find the winning goal because they were far better than Espanyol, and Muniain was the biggest reason why. He completed 81% of passes, put in 5 crosses, and was perfect on long balls. He did more than just dribble circles around defenders, he tied the entire attack together against an opponent that was content to camp out in and around the penalty area.
Moving forward it will be interesting to see what this means for the Athletic lineup. When Muniain plays through the midfield the Lions are a completely different team, but Garitano also wants to have Raúl García on the field. He admitted that García could feature more as the striker, although that remains to be seen. Whatever happens next, Muniain’s performance against Espanyol was spectacular. He put on a show under the lights at San Mamés and once again proved that he is the key factor in the Athletic attack.