Summers in Bilbao don’t tend to be as manic as elsewhere with much fewer comings and goings due to the club’s ‘Basque only’ policy. Therefore it’s slightly easier to gauge how they might shape up in the new campaign. Read on for our Athletic Bilbao season preview for 2019-20.
Last Season – 8th
Athletic Club tend to show greater patience with their coaches than many of their rivals in La Liga but they opted to part company with Eduardo Berizzo just a few months into last season. The appointment of Gaizka Garitano proved an inspired move as Athletic climbed the table to ultimately finish in 8th – just missing out on Europe when at one stage a relegation battle looked on the cards.
Athletic Bilbao Transfers ahead of 2019/20
Jokin Ezkieta – FREE from Barcelona
Alex Remiro – FREE to Real Sociedad
Ander Iturraspe – FREE to Espanyol
Sabin Merino – FREE to Leganes
Mikel Rico – FREE to Huesca
Markel Susaeta – RELEASED
Xabier Etxeita – RELEASED
(Transfers up to 24th July 2019)
Coach – Gaizka Garitano
Gaizka Garitano did a terrific job last season with Athletic down in 18th when he took charge. He boasts over a 50% win ratio as Athletic boss which is some going and the only concern may be that expectation levels for this season have been raised to unrealistic levels as a result. Under Garitano, Athletic look defensively much more astute but the lack of high quality Basque forwards means finding a regular source of goals continues to be a challenge for the former Eibar boss.
Possible Athletic Club Team Next Season
It’s likely to be a case of same again for Athletic this season with no significant additions but no departures that will be felt massively as has been the case in recent years when the likes of Kepa and Aymeric Laporte have left the club. The squad has been trimmed slightly but as always they will look to the academy to fill it up with the production and development of young Basque talent always a priority.
Iago Herrerín is likely to continue as the number one despite the signing of a new goalkeeper in the shape of 22 year old Jokin Ezkieta. Yeray and Iñigo Martínez formed a strong central defensive partnership that was key during Athletic’s rise up the table and both men may have their eyes on trying to secure a place in Spain’s Euro 2020 squad, a tournament which will see La Roja make a rare trip to Bilbao assuming they qualify.
January signing Ibai Gomez didn’t really have the same kind of impact he’d managed at previous club Alaves but will be hoping to cement himself as a regular in this side on the right flank. Meanwhile the likes of Iker Muniain and Raul Garcia will also provide some attacking threat from midfield with Inaki Williams now the undisputed first choice striker after veteran Aritz Aduriz managed to net just twice in La Liga last term.
Key Man – Iñaki Williams
Iñaki Williams’ 2nd goal vs Sevilla was so good pic.twitter.com/0w2uaUan2r
— Mohamed (@MoeSquare) January 13, 2019
Athletic scored just 41 goals last season, the same number as bottom club Rayo and two fewer than Huesca who also went down. Any other club in La Liga would have surely responded by buying a striker but Athletic don’t really have that luxury. Basque options are limited in that position and they’ve so far resisted the temptation to move in for free agent Fernando Llorente who left under a bit of a cloud in 2013.
That piles the pressure on Iñaki Williams who had arguably his most impressive season for Athletic last time around. He finally ended his San Mames goal drought with a spectacular brace against Sevilla. Although more of a natural winger than a number nine, few central defenders will relish the prospect of coming up against the lightning pace of Williams, particularly now he is starting to deliver on a more consistent basis.
One to Watch – Iñigo Córdoba
Iñigo Córdoba is one of the most promising Athletic academy graduates to come through in recent years. He made 15 starts in La Liga last term, mostly on the left flank and chipped in with 5 assists, the best return of any player in the Athletic squad. He’ll be pushing for a starting role this term and Gaizka Garitano certainly has options in the wide areas.
Athletic Club 2019-2020 Targets
Following the sacking of Berizzo, Athletic’s results were more in keeping with a top six or even top four outfit under Gaizka Garitano. It will be very hard to maintain that kind of level up for the duration of the 2019-20 campaign. However if they can make San Mames a fortress once again, they’ll certainly be targeting a push for Europa League qualification with no continental distractions.
Athletic Bilbao season preview via Mark Sochon
Contact: marksochon(at)hotmail.co.uk | @marksoc1 on Twitter