Gaizka Garitano Must Find The Solution To Athletic’s Goalscoring Issues Before It’s Too Late
Last year Gaizka Garitano was the savior Athletic needed. This year he will need to perform another miracle. When the manager took over back in December the Lions were in serious threat of being relegated for the first time in club history. Garitano brought back the traditional style of Athletic football, emphasizing organized defending and direct attacks, but over the past month there has been a significant drop in form.
Saturday’s loss to Atlético Madrid saw Athletic’s winless streak extended to five straight games. During the current run the Basques have also lost to Celta Vigo and Valencia while only managing draws against Real Valladolid and Leganés. Taking just two points from the last five fixtures is far from acceptable for a team that is expected to challenge for European qualification.
The biggest issue and cause for the poor results was summed up perfectly by Garitano after the loss to Celta Vigo at Balaídos. “We are a team that will struggle to score goals.” While Athletic have been one of the strongest defensive teams in La Liga, the inability to create chances and put the ball in the back of the net is haunting the Zurigorri and making it extremely difficult to win matches.
Many will point out that Iñaki Williams is still struggling for consistency at the striker position, which is true, but he’s also not getting any service to put him in position to score goals. Creativity has been lacking in the midfield and the wings, while providing excellent coverage in defense, haven’t provided much at all going forward. Opponents are marking Williams more closely than ever and the rest of the team has been unable to unlock defenses.
So what is the key to solving the deficiencies in attack? Earlier in the season Athletic created several chances every game and it’s important that the Lions get back to the basics of what they did so well at the start of the campaign. The high press forced turnovers in dangerous areas, the fullbacks were constant threats going forward, and there was an urgency when attacking so as not to waste possession.
The intensity hasn’t been the same during the last five games and that is an issue that Garitano must addressed. Perhaps introducing younger talent into the team, such as Oihan Sancet and Gaizka Larrazabal, will provide fresh air and energy that’s so desperately needed.
On the other hand, adjusting the formation could be the answer. Iker Muniain has been the most dynamic player in attack so far this season and is at his best when playing through the middle. Moving Muniain to a central role would require pushing Raúl García out wide or even to the top of the attack with Iñaki Williams returning to the wing. There are several possibilities that could be entertained.
In the end, finding the solution to the problem is up to Garitano. It’s clear that things can’t continue the way they have over the past month and, although changing the entire system is an unreasonable expectation, this team has to evolve and adapt moving forward. No one knows the squad as well as Garitano and the Mister must make the necessary changes before it’s too late.
Wednesday’s match against Espanyol will be a turning point in the season. Either Athletic win and are able to build on the victory, or they fail to take all three points and continue sliding out of the European picture. Hosting one of the weakest teams in the league at San Mamés is the perfect opportunity to secure a much-needed win and anything less will be an unacceptable result and cause for concern. The stage is set, no more excuses. It’s time for Athletic, and Gaizka Garitano, to stop the bleeding and set things right.