Iago Herrerín vs Unai Simón: The Biggest Battle Of The Preseason

Will Iago Herrerín continue as the starting goalkeeper next season? (LaLiga)

Questions must be answered this summer. Gaizka Garitano will be overseeing his first summer as manager of Athletic and there is plenty of work to be done. The Lions have failed to qualify for Europe for two straight years and that has to change. Preseason will officially begin on 4 July and it will be up to the manager to put together the very best squad with hopes of a top 7 finish next season.

Many players will be competing just to have a place in the team. Others will fight for a starting role. There will be several positional battles worth watching closely, but none of them will be as important as the goalkeeper. Iago Herrerín featured as the starter last season though many fans were calling for Unai Simón by the end of the year. It will be up to Garitano to sort it all out.

Last year Herrerín finally realized his dream of being the starting goalkeeper at Athletic. The 31-year-old had fought his entire career for the role and did quite well throughout the season. However, Herrerín’s unorthodox way of playing the position comes with plenty of criticism. Despite his fine form throughout the year, Herrerín also made a handful of mistakes that cost valuable points.

Statistically, Herrerín was one of the best goalkeepers in La Liga last year. The eye test can yield different results. Many believe that his way of playing goalkeeper leads to too many errors and that he should have been taken out of the lineup. Herrerín wasn’t afraid to call out his critics either and knows that everyone has their preferences for who should be in goal.

It wasn’t surprising that Herrerín was given, and kept, the starting role. He was the only experienced goalkeeper in the squad and when the team began challenging for Europe there was no chance that Garitano would make a change at the position. Unai Simón was still untested and had never been in that situation before. Still, the 21-year-old had flashed brilliance at the beginning of the season which was hard to ignore.

Unai Simón was spectacular in his limited minutes last season (LaLiga)

While Herrerín was injured, and Alex Remiro going through contract drama, Simón was thrust into the starting lineup for the first game of the season. The Lezama product was spectacular and made more than one truly great save. Simón continued to come up big in the matches that followed until Herrerín recovered and was immediately handed the job.

The two goalkeepers are vastly different. Herrerín will make the occasional great save, but stands out more for his fearlessness with the ball and willingness to leave his line to make a save or punch. Simón is more traditional. He’s good with the ball at his feet but doesn’t take unnecessary risks. Simón has proven that he can make several world-class saves every game, though he is prone to dropping crosses and not fully clearing shots at times.

Herrerín is a veteran with years of experience. He’s also a guarantee. Even with the tendency for mistakes you always know what you have with Herrerín. Simón, on the other hand, is young and looking to prove himself. He may very well be the better goalkeeper, but he’s untested and still learning what it means to lead a defense. Both will be competing for the starting role this summer and the decision will be up to Garitano.

The Mister can’t go wrong with either goalkeeper, although any decision will be scrutinized. If Herrerín is named the starter again many will criticize the manager for not putting the better player on the field and claim that Simón is wasting another year on the bench. If Simón starts, others will point out that he lacks the experience to lead the defense in a year where qualifying for Europe is absolutely vital.

Garitano knows both players well. Simón played for him at Bilbao Athletic, while Herrerín built a relationship with the manager last season. When the preseason begins there will be no starting goalkeeper. There is no favorite because Garitano will be looking to put the best player on the field. He will force both to fight for the role and it will be up to them to prove why they deserve it. Will it be Iago Herrerín the veteran, or Unai Simón the exciting young star? That’s for them, and Gaizka Garitano, to decide.

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