Athletic Club’s Impressive Wing Versatility Will Be Decisive This Season
Gaizka Garitano didn’t have the time to install an entire system when he took over as Athletic manager in December, but the changes he did make proved massively successful. The Lions put a heavy emphasis on organized defending, protecting the ball, and being very direct in attack. It took a full team effort to play beautiful football and the wings were often the most important positions on the field.
The wide players were required to contribute heavily in defense while also being the catalysts for creating chances moving forward. Oscar de Marcos and Yuri Berchiche spent time further up the field, Iker Muniain switched sides, and Iñigo Córdoba played some of his best football since being promoted to the first team. This year, with a full preseason, to prepare the system, the wings will be more important than ever.
Soon after the season ended several reports suggested that Garitano was looking to strengthen the wings. The club was said to be interested in signing Torino’s Alex Berenguer, but a move never materialized due to the Italians demanding too high of a transfer fee. Instead, the manager will put his faith in the players already at San Mamés including those coming up from Bilbao Athletic.
Iker Muniain and Ibai Gómez are expected to feature as the starting wingers, but Garitano will have plenty of other options as well. De Marcos, Berchiche, and even Ander Capa have proven that they can excel further up the field when needed and Córdoba should continue to take positive strides in his growth. Iñigo Lekue will also be hoping that his versatility can make him a valuable weapon as he can play on either side and at both fullbacks positions.
Iñaki Williams figures to be the starting striker this year but is also able to push out wide if someone like Aritz Aduriz leads the attack. Raúl García can do the same as can Asier Villalibre and Gorka Guruzeta once he returns from ACL recovery. In short, there are already many ways that Garitano can move things around to find success and even more when considering those coming up.
The team will also have the addition of two young players who are eager to prove themselves. Iñigo Vicente and Gaizka Larrazabal combined for 19 goals and 20 assists with Bilbao Athletic last season and are viewed as the future of the first team. Vicente is at his best in a more central role, but can still produce out wide. Larrazabal is a true winger. Both can create chances, score goals, and welcome the competition and challenge of earning a place in the first team.
Wingers will be expected to wear many hats in Garitano’s system this year and the Mister has the luxury of being able to choose from several players with different strengths. Those like Muniain and Larrazabal excel in taking on defenders and creating chances, Gómez and Córdoba have proven to be strong crossers, and others offer defensive stability. Depending on the situation, Garitano can truly build a fluid lineup capable navigating a diverse and competitive La Liga.
The season will be long and the league has grown extremely difficult. If Athletic are truly going to compete for European qualification the team will need positive contribution from everyone. Muniain, Williams, and Gómez must continue to perform at a high level while Córdoba, Larrazabal, and others can be the catalysts that take Athletic to the next level.