Season in Review: Athletic Club season goes swimmingly and ends on La Gabarra

Position: 5th – 68 points
Grade: A+
 
Record: 19-11-8
Goals Scored: 61
Goals Conceded: 37

Top Scorer: Gorka Guruzeta – 16

Top Assister: Nico Williams – 17

 

Story of the season

Athletic Club started off well, and with hopes of Europe, but during their 1-1 draw with Girona in November, it became clear they had a proper team. Beforehand they had a couple of setbacks, but after that match, they were rarely outmatched, rolling over Atletico Madrid three times and Barcelona once in the Copa del Rey run – all the way!

Finally it felt like they had found a system everyone was comfortable in, with Williams brothers on the flanks, Guruzeta up front, and Oihan Sancet in behind. That’s why they increased their goal tally to 61, an increase of 14 on last year, and the most since 2003. Los Leones have clicked properly for the first time since Ernesto Valverde left.

That also allowed them to defend with less fear, knowing they could get into a shootout. Their post-Copa run left a little to be desired in the final stretch, and they could’ve made Atletico sweat for fourth, but given the circumstances, it will matter little in Bilbao.

 

Grade Explanation

Ending a 40-year wait for the Copa del Rey gets you an A+, even if it had been a midtable finish, but Valverde had them fifth. It’s worth pointing out too that if were not for Girona’s miracle, then they would have likely finished in the top four this season.

The likes of Dani Vivian and Nico Williams became serious stars in La Liga, and Guruzeta is a real-life number nine who scored goals for Athletic Club, even if Inaki Williams has his number – he too looks brilliant on the right again.

It’s worth highlighting the emergence of Benat Prados and Unai Gomez, the form of Inigo Ruiz de Galarreta and the contributions of Alex Berenguer off the bench. Valverde found the formula, and his players responded in spectacular fashion.

 

Standout moment: Hundreds to choose from just from the celebrations. On the pitch, they annihalated Atletico in the Copa return leg, off it, Inaki and company holding an impromptu street party in Bilbao on a Tuesday night.

Key player: Very tough choice, and Nico Williams deserves it. But Dani Vivian led the backline and made an aggressive system with ageing full-backs function.

Surprise of the season: Guruzeta – he’s 27. More than doubled his tally of six, and outscored his best total in Segunda too. All while earning comparisons to Karim Benzema!

 

Glass half full

Ernesto Valverde makes things work, even when they shouldn’t. Athletic are breathing confidence and pride. Nico Williams, Sancet, Prados, Vivian, Aitor Paredes, all of them are getting better, and with the Copa monkey off their back there’s no reason to think they can’t shoot for the Champions League.

Glass half empty

The squad depth is fraying at the edges. Athletic struggled at the end after the Copa, and with Europe back – for the first time for a number of these players – they will have plenty more distractions. Can they maintain such intensity with games twice a week? Their full-back room consists of Inigo Lekue (31), Yuri Berchiche (33) and Oscar de Marcos (35), and there isn’t much sign of solid replacements on the way. The elephant in the room is Nico Williams’ future.

Tags Athletic Club Copa del Rey Ernesto Valverde

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