Is Asier Villalibre Ready To Lead The Attack For Athletic?

Asier Villalibre has earned regular playing time moving forward (AC)

“I have to be the best Villalibre, not the next Aduriz.” These words from Asier Villalibre a few weeks ago ring true now more than ever before. Over the years Villalibre has been touted as one of the most promising players coming through Lezama and regularly compared to Aduriz, but he doesn’t want the comparisons.

The 22-year-old has often been referred to as the eventual successor to Aduriz and with the legend recently announcing his retirement the pressure on Villalibre is greater than ever. Expecting a young player to immediately replace one of the biggest stars in club history shouldn’t happen. The comparisons are unnecessary and Villalibre doesn’t want to stand in the shadow of Aduriz, he wants to write his own legacy at San Mamés.

At the same time some of the comparisons are unavoidable. Like Aduriz, Villalibre is also a diminutive striker who is dangerous in the air and excels when used as a target man inside the area. Pace has never been one of Villalibre’s strengths, but he makes up for it with physical strength and exceptional positioning. Now all eyes are on him.

Aduriz’s retirement has left a massive hole in the team and while Villalibre shouldn’t be looked at as the heir, he can be the next striker to lead the attack. But is he ready?

Villalibre celebrates his late equalizer against Eibar (LaLiga)

Following three unsuccessful loan spells Villalibre returned to Bilbao Athletic last season with one year left on his contract and void of confidence. The club believed that staying at home would give him the opportunity to get back to playing his best football and the decision couldn’t have gone better.

By the end of the season Villalibre had scored 23 goals for Bilbao Athletic and was rewarded with a new contract and full promotion to the first team. As the current season got under way there was concern that Villalibre wouldn’t have many minutes. Still, he had no desire to leave on loan again and was content to sit behind Aduriz and the other forwards to learn as much as possible.

In January Villalibre began to have regular minutes and was even named to the starting lineup on occasion. The Lezama product showed flashes of quality and was able to impact games, although he also struggled at times as it was clear that adjusting to the pace and physicality of Primera was a challenge. Villalibre looked better with each passing game and last night he once again showed what he can bring to the team.

Villalibre’s greatest strength has always been his ability to put himself in scoring positions. That’s exactly what he did against Eibar when he came on as a late substitute and scored an incredible volley with his knee to rescue a draw for the Lions. The chance in front of goal wasn’t easy, but Villalibre is a natural finisher and found a way to put the ball in the back of the net.

Although Villalibre has only scored four goals this season, he’s done so without regular minutes and all four have been decisive. He netted a brace in the Cup win over Sestao River which included the first goal, then opened the scoring two months later in a start against Espanyol, and finally the equalizer late against Eibar. He also scored the winning penalty in a shootout against Tenerife in the Cup to send Athletic through to the quarterfinals.

Villalibre leads the team with a goal every 123 minutes (AC)

In addition to being a clutch performer this season, it’s also important to recognize his reliability in limited appearances. Villalibre has scored four goals in just 494 minutes which equates to a goal every 123 minutes and is by far the best average in the team. For comparison Iñaki Williams has averaged a goal every 288 minutes, Raúl García every 281 minutes, and Iker Muniain every 374 minutes.

It’s easy to forget that Villalibre is still very young. He lacks experience in the Primera, but is on the cusp of taking breaking out and needs regular playing time to realize his potential. Williams has proven that he’s better on the wing and Raúl García isn’t a natural striker. At some point Villalibre has to be given the chance to earn a place in the lineup.

The fact of the matter is that he may not be ready to lead the attack right now, but he’s certainly earned more consistent playing time. Confidence has returned, as have goals, and Villalibre is ready for more. Athletic are missing a true striker in front of goal and having more opportunities could be just what Asier Villalibre needs to take the next step and become a star at San Mamés.

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