3 Ways Gaizka Garitano Can Replace Iker Muniain
Through the first 10 games of the season Athletic had a serious problem. Despite being arguably the best defensive side in La Liga the Lions struggled to create chances and, even when they did, there was concerning lack of finishing. However, Gaizka Garitano seemed to have found the solution in the last three games by moving Iker Muniain to the midfield. The decision brought immediate improvement and success, but now Garitano must find a new answer.
Muniain will be sidelined until January with a hamstring injury which leaves a massive hole in the lineup. Losing the captain for several games will be extremely difficult to overcome and Garitano is the one tasked with handling the situation. While there are many ways that the Mister could reshape the lineup to account for Muniain’s absence, three options stand out the most.
Moving Raúl García Back To Midfield
Starting Muniain in the midfield wasn’t the sole solution to Athletic’s problems in front of goal. The move also saw Raúl García pushed up into the striker role with Iñaki Williams returning to his former position on the right wing. García’s ability to hold up play and operate as a target in the box gave a new dimension to the Athletic attack as all three forwards combined beautifully.
With Muniain out, moving García back to the midfield is the natural and most likely decision. García has spent years playing behind the striker and could do for the foreseeable future. If that does happen, Garitano would then have to decide which two players to start beside the 33-year-old assuming that Williams would also be leading the attack once again.
Iñigo Córdoba, Gaizka Larrazabal, and Ibai Gómez would all be battling for two starting spots in this scenario, though no one would be able to replace the qualities that Muniain brought to the midfield. One source claims that the expectation is that Córdoba and Larrazabal will be in the lineup for Sunday’s trip to El Sadar though that remains to be seen.
More Freedom For Unai López
Throughout his development as a young player Unai López actually played in a more attacking role in the midfield. At one point it was believed that he could start behind the striker for the first team but that really hasn’t been the case. Instead, López has found a home in a double pivot with Dani García where he’s said he feels the most comfortable. That could change.
If Garitano wants to continue using Raúl García as the striker, López could be pushed further forward into the vacancy left by Muniain. While the 24-year-old doesn’t possess the same technical ability with the ball at his feet, he would have the opportunity to prove that he can impact games with his passing and vision which hasn’t been the case to this point.
Of course, moving López higher up the pitch would leave a hole beside Dani García. Beñat, who has just returned from an ankle injury, could be the answer in this role or even Oihan Sancet who has already made a handful of appearances for the first team this season. Either way, starting López in Muniain’s place would be a risky option because there’s no guarantee that it would bring similar success.
Unleashing Oihan Sancet
Fans have been clamoring for Oihan Sancet for months but the club has taken a patient approach with the starlet. Athletic wants to ensure that Sancet isn’t thrown into a situation before he’s ready but the 19-year-old’s quality and potential are undeniable. In his two appearances with the first team this season he has shown signs that he’s ready for the challenge and Muniain’s injury could provide the opportunity.
While Sancet could start in a double pivot with López in a more advanced position, another option is to simply put Sancet in that role instead of changing up the entire midfield. At this point it’s difficult to gauge which position will bring the most success from Sancet though it’s clear that he excels when directly attacking defenses which could go a long way in accounting for Muniain’s production in the final third.
Losing Iker Muniain for a long period is a significant blow for Athletic but there are options to take his place in the lineup. Garitano will most likely put Raúl García back in his natural position, though López and Sancet are also possibilities that should be considered especially if the team struggles going forward. There’s no clear right answer in this situation and every game could require something different, however, Garitano’s decisions will be analyzed very closely.