Athletic Bilbao Season Preview 2020/21 – Can the Basques break into Europe?

Athletic Bilbao season preview

As is so often the case, it has been an uneventful summer at San Mames with not much transfer activity to report meaning Athletic’s side will have a familiar look to it next season. Read on for our 2020/21 Athletic Bilbao season preview as the Basques target an improved league finish and potentially some silverware with a big cup final on the horizon.


Last Season – 11th

Athletic’s 2019/20 season started with a bang as Aritz Aduriz’s acrobatic winner sealed victory over defending champions Barcelona on the opening night. However that would prove the veteran striker’s last major contribution in his final season at the club and a lack of goals ensured Athletic’s league campaign petered out to some extent.

The highlight was their fine Copa del Rey run and they still have an all-Basque Final against Real Sociedad to look forward to. The latest hope is that it may finally be played around Christmas time after both clubs agreed to delay the game until a time when fans can attend.


Athletic Bilbao Summer Transfers

Players IN

None

Players OUT

None

(Transfers up to 28th August 2020.)


Coach –  Gaizka Garitano

Gaizka Garitano’s style of football is not always easy on the eye, but he has done a very solid job at San Mames. Having taken over in late 2018 with Athletic languishing in the relegation zone, he has established a clear identity and made Athletic solid defensively with only four teams conceding fewer goals last term.

Only finishing 11th does add a little bit of pressure to this season where the expectation will be that Athletic challenge for a European place. Garitano also has a good chance to permanently etch his name into Athletic folklore by winning some silverware this season with the Supercopa in January also providing an opportunity to do just that.


Possible Athletic Club Line Up 2020/21

Athletic line up 2020/21

Gaizka Garitano has consistently opted to go with a 4-2-3-1 formation and it’s unlikely we’ll see any radical shift in style this season. The full-backs both look to really push forward and provide an attacking threat but overall it’s a solid back four operating in front of Unai Simon, one of the brightest young goalkeepers in the Spanish game. Unai Núñez is another strong centre-back on Athletic’s books and he’ll be pushing for a regular starting berth this term unless he is lured away by rumoured Premier League interest.

Athletic are a bit short on creativity and imagination in the middle of the park though. They are all too often reliant on Iker Muniain for inspiration and they may need youngster Oihan Sancet to have a breakthrough campaign otherwise it’s likely to be a problem again.

Garitano’s other big decision will be whether to continue with Raul Garcia as the team’s main striker which would mean utilising Inaki Williams out wide. Garcia, a midfielder by trade, notched up an outstanding 15 league goals last term. It’ll be a big ask to expect the 34 year old to repeat those kind of numbers but right now he may be Athletic’s best bet in the forward role although Asier Villalibre is another emerging option.


Key Man – Raul Garcia

Having been able to rely on the talents of Aritz Aduriz for so long, finding the true heir to his throne was never going to be an easy task but few would have picked Raul Garcia as the long-term successor. However despite his own advancing years, Garcia really has relished the task of leading the line for Athletic and given his impressive goal tally and general nuisance factor, it’s no surprise that Garitano has called upon him to do so with increasing regularity.

With few reliable goalscorers at the club, Athletic will need Garcia to have another strong season if they are going to be serious European challengers.


One to Watch – Oihan Sancet

The latest young talent to break into the Athletic first team set-up is Oihan Sancet. The 20 year old featured more prominently for Athletic’s B team last term where he showcased his ability to be both a scorer and creator of goals. First team opportunities have come his way with more regularity though, in part due to the congested nature of the conclusion to last season.

He showed flashes of his potential including grabbing his first goal in the 3-1 win over Mallorca. There is definitely an opportunity there for Sancet to cement himself in this team if he plays well, with alternative attacking central midfield options a bit thin on the ground, given Iker Muniain tends to be used in a wide role.


Athletic Club 2020/21 Targets

That delayed cup final is still firmly in the minds of Athletic players and fans alike heading into this season. It’s 36 years since one of Spain’s two major trophies headed to Bilbao so it’s impossible to understate how important that game will be, not least because of the opposition. Win it, and another mediocre league season would most likely be forgiven, but the truth is Athletic need to kick on this term and make a stronger push for European qualification through the league.

With Valencia looking considerably weaker and other clubs perhaps needing to raise some cash to help them through these uncertain times, a club like Athletic should in theory benefit. They are in a strong financial position and won’t be under any serious pressure to sell players so they should be able to attack next term with the same squad that ended the 2019/20 season. It may just be the kind of summer where standing still, actually equates to moving forward relative to other sides in this league and Athletic look capable of potentially sneaking into the Europa League.

LLE Prediction: 7th


Athletic Bilbao - San Mames
Match day in Bilbao

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Spanish football writer
About Mark Sochon 1538 Articles
Mark is a freelance writer based in Madrid. He has also lived in Seville and Barcelona and has written extensively about Spanish football. His work has been published by the likes of Guardian Sport & World Soccer.