Time For Iñigo Córdoba To Return To The Lineup

Athletic have lost just two games this season with Iñigo Córdoba in the team (AC)

Fans were viciously critical of Iñigo Córdoba throughout the beginning of the season. As a regular part of Gaizka Garitano’s lineup, the young winger offered valuable work rate and contributed heavily in defense, but often struggled in the final third. Córdoba routinely gave away possession around the box and made poor decisions which soon led to Athletic supporters demanding a change.

Córdoba’s teammates quickly came to his defense after the 22-year-old was whistled at San Mamés on multiple occasions. Players like Yuri Berchiche and Iker Muniain publicly backed the young winger, though after Athletic’s draw with Eibar in December Córdoba was dropped from the team.

With Córdoba seen as the weakest link in the lineup fans celebrated Garitano’s decision. However, the results didn’t improve and actually deteriorated over the past few months. Apart from advancing to the Copa del Rey semifinal, Athletic would go on a ten-game winless streak in La Liga which was finally snapped on Sunday with a 1-0 victory over Villarreal with Córdoba brought back into the fold.

The numbers are staggering. In 13 games with Córdoba in the team Athletic have recorded 6 wins, 5 draws, and only 2 losses to take a total of 23 points. Without Córdoba, Athletic have managed just 2 wins in 13 games to secure 11 points. Based on that average, Athletic would have earned 46 points at this stage of the season if Córdoba played every match, good enough for 3rd in the table.

Of course, it’s not that simple. Had Córdoba not been taken out of the lineup there’s no guarantee that Athletic would have continued to record the same results or avoid the winless streak over the past three months. However, it’s not entirely coincidental either and the numbers do reflect an important truth.

Iñigo Córdoba makes Athletic’s high press much more effective (AC)

Though Córdoba has much to improve as an attacker, his defensive contribution and other qualities bring important balance to the team that has been missing in his absence. The statistics may not be impressive but the winger offers things that are invaluable on the field. “He’s a player who gives us a lot in intangibles,” said Garitano after the win over Villarreal.

Yuri Berchiche has been the biggest defender of Córdoba. “I love Córdoba for everything he gives on the field,” the left-back said back in November. “He will have better and worse days, but people should see everything he gives us.” Berchiche has played his best football when partnered with Córdoba and the results speak for themselves.

In Garitano’s system, Córdoba is the best fit to play left-wing in the 4-2-3-1 formation. Athletic haven’t been able to control games or press with nearly the same effectiveness with him off the field and fans have to recognize what he brings to the team in all areas. With Athletic having struggled for results lately, Iñigo Córdoba was instrumental in the win over Villarreal and should be brought back into the lineup moving forward.

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