Athletic Club have big dreams for this year’s installment of the Europa League. The Lions believe that they have a squad capable of winning the title and are going all out in pursuit of that goal. For that to happen, they must first advance past the group stage which officially began on Thursday against Hertha Berlin in Germany. It was a tale of two halves as the Basque giants dominated the first 45 minutes but saw their hosts do the same after the break. The game eventually ended in a scoreless draw but that should not deter fans from being satisfied with the result. Let’s break down some of the talking points from Thursday’s draw in Germany.
Iago Herrerín The Hero
With all of the praise that Kepa Arrizabalaga gets on a daily basis it is easy to forget that Iago Herrerín is also a very good goalkeeper. On Thursday night he was as important as ever and was arguably the man of the match for Athletic Club, making six saves and keeping a clean sheet in a difficult road game. In the first half the 29-year-old was barely called into action, only claiming a few crosses, but in the second half he had made three saves that all could perhaps should have been goals for Hertha Berlin. The clean sheet was Athletic’s fifth in a row in all competitions, but was certainly due to Herrerín more than anything else.
Herrería style still has some fans nervous at times. He is never shy to leave his line and always looks to win aerial balls. On Thursday his punches out of the box kept some promising creativity from forming and may have been just as big as his saves. Moving forward, the Lions will be hoping for the keeper to continue with this run of form. He is playing perhaps his best football of his career and that is definitely needed if they want to have another deep run in the Europa League.
Missed Calls On Both Sides
Throughout the course of this game there were several interesting decisions from the referee that went against both sides. In the first half, Iker Muniain beat three defender and was running onto a ball in the box. Had he finished his run he would’ve only needed to beat the keeper to score a goal, but that didn’t happen. Instead, a defender tripped and handled the ball with his arm while falling to the ground, completely redirecting the pass from Mikel Vesga. All of the Athletic players began to protest, but the referee waved play on. Many fans will look back at that moment and wonder what could have been.
In the second half Hertha Berlin would get their own questionable no-call when an attacker turned around in the box and was knocked down by Aymeric Laporte. To be fair, he did seem to go down very easily, but that doesn’t change the fact that he was fouled. If that had happened to an Athletic player the fans would have wanted the penalty called. Instead, the referee once again waved play on. Besides these two big moments there were several calls for weak, almost nonexistent fouls, on both teams while some rougher challenges were ignored. In the end it was a relatively even match from an officiating standpoint, but there were still some very odd decisions made.
The Draw Was A Good Result
Because of how well Athletic dominated the opening half hour, fans have been relatively upset over the scoreless draw. Most fans are upset after watching 90 minutes without a goal, but that doesn’t always mean that the result was bad. In fact, earning a point on the road in Germany is actually a favorable result for the Lions. On paper this trip to Berlin was the hardest game of the entire group and they walked away with a point, no injuries, and their heads held high. The next time these two meet will be at the San Mamés and that will be a huge encounter.
There are still five games left in the group so there will be plenty of chances for Athletic to pick up points. They were lucky to play their hardest match to open up the group stage and taking a point away is never a bad thing in that situation. Kuko Ziganda was also able to rotate his team once again, changing five players from Sunday’s match against Girona. His rotational policy has been paying off in a big way and will continue to provide strength and continuity as the season progresses. For now, it’s back to the La Liga, but the match against Zorya Luhansk is looming large.