Athletic Club’s 2-0 win over Girona on Sunday was not as easy as the score would suggest. For the first twenty or so minutes the Catalans were by far the better team, but the patience and resiliency of the Lions helped the home side eventually settle into control and take all three points. Kuko Ziganda’s team has now earned 7 of a possible 9 points in La Liga and currently sit tied with Sevilla for third place in the table. It’s been an incredible start to the new year and fans can be nothing but proud of the team at this point. With that being said, let’s take a look at some of the talking points from Sunday’s win at the San Mamés.
The Defense Is Playing At An Elite Level
From the very first day of preseason training it was clear that Kuko Ziganda was putting all of the focus on defense. From what the players were saying to what was being seen in practice, there was no question about it. So far this this, that focus has paid off in a big way. Through Athletic’s first seven games they have only conceded three goals and have earned five clean sheets. That isn’t a coincidence. Sunday’s game against Girona was no different as the backline was absolutely stellar.
As should be the case, Athletic’s defensive success begins with the midfield. Mikel San Jose was able to roam in front of the backline to cut out passing lanes and would drop further back when needed to cover for a teammate. From there, Aymeric Laporte and Unai Nuñez did a fantastic job at winning back possession, making tackles, and not giving up anything in the air. If the Lions are able to go 21 more minutes in La Liga without conceding a goal it will be the longest run to start the campaign in club history. It may only be the beginning of the season, but this defense is playing at an elite level and that’s not even considering that Yeray is expected to make his return from chemotherapy sometime this month.
Unai Nuñez Is The Real Deal
One of the biggest storylines for Athletic this season has been the arrival and emergence of Unai Nuñez. When he joined the first team for preseason training a lot of experts believed that he would eventually be leaving on loan to play regular minutes in the Segunda. Instead, he proved that he deserved a place in Kuko Ziganda’s team and has played every minute of Athletic’s three La Liga games so far. In fact, the case can be made that he has been the team’s best defender to this point.
Nuñez has looked better with every game he’s played and that was the case once again on Sunday. The 20-year-old came up big with two tackles as the last defender, showing off his keen ability to win back possession from difficult angles. Despite the great offensive contributions by his teammates, Nunez could have actually been awarded man of the match honors. Furthermore, he led all players with 5 tackles, 3 interceptions, and 11 clearances which is no easy task. The Lezama product has jumped right into lineup and looks like he’s been there for years. It’s only been three games, but Unai Nuñez looks like the real deal.
Iñaki Williams Continues To Influence Outcomes
A lot has been made about Iñaki Williams’ lack of finishing over the past year. Even this season he has missed several chances that have led some fans to believe that he just isn’t as effective as he should be. While his struggles in front of goal may be well-founded, the 23-year-old has been absolutely integral to the team’s success in La Liga to this point. Through the first three games the Lions have scored three goals and he has assisted on every single one of them.
Iñaki’s pace and dribbling ability just gives the team something that no one else can. He demands constant attention from defenders and is always causing problems. For instance, he pulled three defenders out of position against Girona to set up Aritz Aduriz’s goal which is exactly what you want to see. He has also improved his passing game as well, sending in a beautiful cross to set up Iker Muniain’s goal in the first half. The 23-year-old has shown much better crossing ability over the last year and that cannot be understated. Even though he may not be scoring goals right now, Iñaki Williams is seriously influencing the outcome of games and that is something that fans should be excited about.