Why Ibai Gómez Isn’t Playing
Athletic have managed to keep pace in the race for Europe, taking 5 out of a possible 9 points since La Liga returned, but climbing into the top seven will require more. Gaizka Garitano’s side need to win more games to make up ground and fans have been critical of the manager’s decisions.
Not starting Iñaki Williams against Eibar frustrated fans and Garitano’s substitutions as of late have been a serious issue as well. However, the biggest question from fans has been why Ibai Gómez has barely seen the field. The 30-year-old brings creativity and a prowess for set-pieces, both of which the team has been lacking, but Gómez has only played a handful of minutes since the season resumed.
Given the recent pandemic it’s entirely possibly that Gómez has some level of fitness problem, though there’s been no sign of that being the case. In truth, Gómez wasn’t playing very much before the football stoppage and the current situation is almost certainly due in part to the same reason.
In Garitano’s system every single player on the field has to contribute defensively. If even one player fails to do so the team’s organization can fall apart and lead to disaster. Throughout his career Gómez has always struggled defensively. His lack of pace and work rate have come under criticism at times and since returning to Athletic last January he’s found it difficult to adapt.
Over the past three games Iñigo Córdoba and Iñaki Williams has started on the wings, which comes as no surprise, but Garitano has also chosen to play the likes of Gaizka Larrazabal, Óscar De Marcos, and Iñigo Lekue over Gómez. All five players are known for providing a high work-rate and willingness to defend, which suggests that defensive issues are still the main reason why Gómez isn’t having chances.
Gómez offers more than some others in attack, but it’s also true that he hasn’t been at his best going forward this season either. That may be due to a lack of chances and rhythm. Still, he could have had a serious impact in recent games and the argument can be made that he deserves more minutes, especially with coaches now allowed to make five substitutions.
Unfortunately, with the remaining games packed so close together and Athletic still fighting for Europe it’s unlikely that Gómez’s situation will change.
Whether right or wrong it seems as though Ibai Gómez has to take a step forward defensively to earn more minutes, but that can’t happen without having chances to play. With just eight games remaining this season Gaizka Garitano will have to rotate the team and it will be up to Ibai Gómez to take advantage of the opportunities if they come.