When Oscar De Marcos left Sunday’s game against Getafe after picking up an injury it didn’t look like there was much to worry about. Replays did not show any obvious signs of a serious problem, but afterwards manager Kuko Ziganda said that he expected the right-back to be out for a few weeks. On Tuesday the club announced that he had suffered a Grade II left ankle sprain which will likely see him miss up to one month of action. Losing the versatile 28-year-old is definitely not good for Athletic and the task of filling in will fall to two players.
First up in the pecking order is Iñigo Lekue who is expected to be the starting right-back while De Marcos is recovering. Lekue has played at both fullback spots and on both wings since being promoted in 2015, but has always looked the best on the right side of the defense. You never want to see a teammate injured, but this could be the perfect chance for Lekue to show that he can be the right-back of the future and begin challenging for a regular starting role. Last year he had a few stretches where he played at a very high level and it will be interesting to see if he can replicate that success over the next few weeks.
The second player that will see time at right-back is Eneko Bóveda who is in a much different boat than Lekue. Despite playing more minutes than anyone else during preseason, Bóveda has yet to feature in any of Athletic’s four matches this season. In fact, Ziganda elected to start Unai Nuñez over Bóveda for Sunday’s game against Getafe which was quite a surprise to everyone. It remains to be seen if Bóveda’s time at Athletic is coming to an end, but De Marcos’ injury will give him chances to prove that he still deserves a place at the San Mamés. Had this injury not happened, it is really difficult to predict when he would have actually gotten on the pitch. Interestingly enough, this could also see Sabin Merino get some chances due to Lekue not being available to play on the right wing. Ziganda will have decisions to make.
In a perfect world Lekue would start at right-back until De Marcos is able to return, but with so many matches ahead Bóveda will get to see minutes as well. Both will competing against each other to take advantage of this opportunity which should bring out the best in them. That being said, this is a unique situation where Lekue will be trying to earn more minutes, while Bóveda will be trying to simply keep his place in the team. Regardless, De Marcos’ absence will be felt. He has become one of the most consistent players in the team and can provide quality that no other right-back can at the moment. With some difficult matches coming up this injury couldn’t have come at a worse time for Athletic Club.