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Iker Muniain of Athletic Bilbao and Spain

Iker Muniain - only 19 and already playing third full season as a starter. Picture taken from Goal.com

Iker Muniain is the jewel of Athletic Bilbao. Despite being just 19 years old he has been starting for the club since 2009, making the current season his third as a vital part of the team.

Muniain’s talent has many admirers, but the boy from Osasuna hasn’t rushed away from the Athletic Bilbao and probably will not do so in very close future, even if it would be fair to say no club in the world would say “no” if you asked them “would you take Muniain?”.

The diminutive forward could potentially cover any role in the front three as well as the position of an attacking midfielder. He’s yet another one of Spain’s technically superb talents who also has a really good mentality.

Report on Iker Muniain

Personal Information (according to transfermarkt.co.uk):

Name: Iker Muniain Goñi
Date of Birth: 19.12.1992 (age 19)
Nationality: Spanish
Height: 169 cm
Current Club: Athletic Bilbao (contracted until 30.06.2015)
National Team: Played in Spanish senior, U21, U20, U19 and U17 teams

Playing Information:

Main Position: Left Forward
Preferred Foot: Right

Statistics For Last 3 Seasons (according to transfermarkt.co.uk):

2011/2012: Athletic Bilbao / Spain / Spain U21 – 49 games, 9 goals, 8 assists, 10 yellow cards, 3940 minutes played
2010/2011: Athletic Bilbao / Spain U21 / Spain U19 – 50 games, 5 goals, 3 assists, 7 yellow cards, 3288 minutes played
2009/2010: Athletic Bilbao / Spain U17 – 41 games, 6 goals, 3 assists, 3 yellow cards, 1680 minutes played

Games Watched To Make The Report:

1. Athletic Bilbao – Real Sociedad 2:0 (Liga BBVA, 04.03.2012)
2. Manchester United – Athletic Bilbao 2:3 (Europa League, 08.03.2012)
3. Osasuna – Athletic Bilbao 2:1 (Liga BBVA, 11.03.2012)

Key Individual Match Statistics (WhoScored.com):

1. 26 passes (81% success rate); 1 long ball (accurate: 1); 2 crosses (accurate: 0); 1 through ball (accurate: 1); 1 shot taken (accurate: 0); 2 successful dribbles; fouled 4 times; 4 tackles; 2 interceptions; 0 fouls
2. No detailed statistics
3. 19 passes (79% success rate); 0 long balls; 0 crosses; 2 through balls (accurate: 1); 2 shots taken (accurate: 1); 0 successful dribbles; fouled 1 time; 1 tackle; 0 interceptions; 4 fouls

Picture taken from Footballfancast.com

Analysis of Muniain’s Performances:

Iker was one of the main clogs in the Athletic Bilbao attack in all those games I saw and he was a constant menace to all the defenders marking him.

He showed great technical skills, awareness, commitment and determination, but obviously he is far from the finished article and could still struggle in a different environment, as his low-key performance against his home-town club Osasuna showed.

Overall he scored one goal in those games, it came against Manchester United. He used his pace to burst into box as United’s Rafael thought he had all the time in the world to get to a rebound from a David de Gea save. The finish itself was nothing difficult or precise, Muniain simply smashed the rolling ball under the crossbar.

Tactically he showed a tendancy to drift inside as the full-back came up from his side (left).

Leaves defenders biting dust

Muniain’s tiny size is a blessing to him, it allows him to be incredibly hard to mark as he has a low centre of balance, he is light and can accelerate as well as change direction at speeds which are unreachable for defenders.

His running style is very intense and he takes a lot of tiny steps when sprinting. I don’t remember him being outsprinted once, even against Ashley Young he managed to be a worthy competitor. Running at high speeds obviously requires him to have a good ball control and that is something which he has developed into near perfection over the years.

One of the most remarkable things about him is that he requires almost no room to turn around, he could turn 180 degrees with a blink of the eye while staying in the same place and his brilliant touch would make sure that the ball stays perfectly in front of him.

He doesn’t rely only on his speed and touch to be a threat – hard work also plays its part. He has very good stamina plus great amounts of grit and determination. He was looking to get at the end of rebounds and get behind the opponent line. He also had no problems getting back to near his penalty area and then back up again without taking a rest for even a second.

Although… tactically, for example blocking opponent passing paths, he could do better and potentially preserve some energy.

This stamina is clear when you see the amount of games he has played already this season (over 50). You’d think he feels a bit tired, but that is not the case.

He did show tiny signs of tiring in later stages of league games however as in the later minutes he lost a yard of pace and that allowed defenders to get more physical with him and then things become quite difficult for Muniain. But it is hard to demand a player to be at his sharpest for full 90 minutes of the match.

This is a pseudo-problem if he improves technically and tactically.

Could he be forced to make mistakes?

I was impressed with the quick thinking and vision of Muniain as he rarely lost the ball and always had an eye on what was happening on the pitch. He doesn’t do “panic passes” to no-where in hope that it finds a team mate. He rarely seems to get himself into such situations, he knows what to do before he gets the ball.

He tries tricky things like dummies, chips, backheels, outside of the foot passes and some difficult to execute through balls but pretty much all of the times, when he made a decision in favor of the audacious, it was a right one to make and showed his good vision rather than a need to show of his skills.

To finish the analysis part on a usual note of criticism, I’d have to start off with his end product which is maybe not as top quality as the other parts of his game. I think he could score more, against Manchester United he had many chances and although you could say David De Gea made some great saves, I’d say that the very best of the world wouldn’t have given De Gea a chance to save. Muniain needs to be more calm with his finishes.

But that is not the biggest issue. I wonder if La Liga managers have noticed that Muniain only dribbles with his right foot. I saw very minimal amount of touches with left foot – only one I actually remember was a blocked cross.

He always keeps the ball on his right foot and this could make him very inefficient against an intelligent defender who knows how to close the angle for him to cut inside from the left flank. Things could become even more difficult should some teams decide to double him up.

He wouldn’t be the last very good player who excessively uses only one foot, but it still makes him vulnerable and slightly easier to force into errors.

What level do I think he is:

I think he is good enough to go with Spain to the European Championship. I guess the best player to compare him to at this moment is Dortmund’s forward Mario Götze. I don’t see very much difference in terms of quality, although I’d lean towards choosing Götze for being more of a finished product.

Muniain would be an asset for any club. A starter for the very best teams? Not sure yet, because the game against Osasuna seemed to hint that he could turn to be less efficient against teams that give away little space.

What level could he reach:

He is definitely one of the better youngsters in the world of football at the moment and has potential to become one of the best in the world.

Quality of the superhuman Leo Messi might be too much to hope for, but a notch below, definitely.

If I had to pay 10 million euros rating: 10/10

I think what I said before is sufficient for this rating so I don’t need to repeat myself. He is already playing above 10 million euro player level and will most probably grow to become worth a lot more. Besides, as young player, he wouldn’t command a huge wage at this moment and he could offer a lot of years.

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Posted by on March 16, 2012 in Big Reports

 

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Mikel San José of Athletic Bilbao and Spain U23

22-year old Mikel San José is showing signs of becoming a good international quality defender. Picture taken from zimbio.com

Athletic Bilbao players are improving fast under the guidance of Marcelo Bielsa and amongst those getting play time in the side of Bielsa is a young centre-back named Mikel San José.

22-year old who was born in Pamplona was part of Bilbao’s academy at young age, but spent 3 years of his career in the youth and reserve teams of Liverpool before moving back to his old club.

Since 2009 he has been a starter for Bilbao and he has had a good season so far and he is attracting the interest of some top teams of Europe.

Report on Mikel San José

Personal Information (according to transfermarkt.co.uk):

Name: Mikel San José Domínguez
Date of Birth: 30.05.1989 (age 22)
Nationality: Spanish
Height: 186 cm
Current Club: Athletic Bilbao (contracted until 30.06.2015)
National Team: Played in Spanish U23, U21 and U19 teams

Playing Information:

Position: Central defender
Preferred Foot: Right

Statistics For Last 3 Seasons (according to transfermarkt.co.uk):

2011/2012: Athletic Bilbao / Spain U23 – 29 games, 3 goals, 1 assist, 5 yellow cards, 1833 minutes played
2010/2011: Athletic Bilbao / Spain U21 – 38 games, 3 goals, 1 own goal, 10 yellow cards, 1 red card, 3230 minutes played
2009/2010: Athletic Bilbao / Spain U21 – 32 games, 3 goals, 1 own goal, 1 assist, 10 yellow cards, 2658 minutes played

Games Watched To Make The Report:

1. Athletic Bilbao – Real Sociedad 2:0 (Liga BBVA, 04.03.2012)
2. Manchester United – Athletic Bilbao 2:3 (Europa League, 08.03.2012)
3. Osasuna – Athletic Bilbao 2:1 (Liga BBVA, 11.03.2012)

Key Individual Match Statistics (WhoScored.com):

1. 45 passes (73% success rate); 5 long balls (accurate: 1); 1 tackle; 2 interceptions; 6 clearances (effective: 2); 1 shot blocked; 1 foul (1 yellow card); 1 shot taken (on target: 1); dispossessed 1 time
2. No detailed statistics
3. 42 passes (63% success rate); 6 long balls (accurate: 2); 3 tackles; 4 interceptions; 9 clearances (effective: 3); 0 shots blocked; 0 fouls; 1 shot taken (on target: 0); dispossessed 2 times

San José is strong in the air, but bit slow against the faster forwards.

Analysis of San José’s Performances:

San José is a player who seems to have good understanding of his shortcomings. Bielsa’s high energy tactics require a lot from his defenders and San Jose will be well prepared to play at high pace if he should go to a big team.

He was decent in the games I watched him in, but he was still a distance off the best defenders in European football. He doesn’t mess up, but he doesn’t have the ability to completely nullify players either – or to put it simply, he doesn’t do anything special.

Strong in the air, struggles on the ground

San José is a strong defender with a good physical presence in the box, I don’t remember him getting beaten even once in the air, although in fairness, there weren’t too many real challengers either. Osasuna’s two goals were from headers and San José was thereabout when Raul Garcia scored the 2:0 goal, but it was rather the mistake of another player defending against Garcia.

On the negative side, he is not the fastest of player. He can just about keep up with the faster forwards running with the ball, but sometimes he is forced to make a tiny pull or use his strength a bit excessively in order to slow down opponent. But to praise him, he does get close enough to do that, he does it in safe areas with no big recuperations and it is better that he gives away the little foul rather than let the player go.

His statistics also seem to indicate that he has gotten more intelligent with his fouling over the past years with his yellow card amount on the course for a slight decrease this season.

He doesn’t slide into tackles too often and prefers to stand tall, not rush into winning the ball. This I feel to be  useful in most situations. He was poor in the case of Manchester United’s first goal against Athletic Bilbao where he did slid into a challenge on the edge of the area and failed to get the ball away from Ryan Giggs, who passed it to Javier Hernandez, whose shot was saved, before Wayne Rooney tapped in.

When he is forced to defend one on one, he is often side-stepped or burned for pace if he doesn’t stand very far off the player. But standing far off is a problem, it allows opponent a lot of time to make a pass and at times also opens up an angle for a shot, this is something which happened against Osasuna for example, when he allowed one curling shot from the edge of the area which went just a bit wide.

His reading and positioning skills are solid for his age and with more experience, he should become even more intelligent to make up for his speed issues. He doesn’t get caught out of position and he has the awareness of what to do – for example he managed to force opponents to non-dangerous areas when defending during counter-attacks.

Comfortable on the ball

One sign of a Bielsa trained defender is that San José does try to pass the ball out of defence and doesn’t smash it forward. He is very calm on the ball.

In the latest games his passing success ratio has been quite poor, but over the course of the season it has been a bit better. Still, I could see he’s not entirely comfortable when passing and sometimes he takes poor quality efforts which tend to bobble and are not easy for a team-mate to control. His long balls and clearances are often aimless and far from precise.

Finishing with his technical assessment, his running on the ball seemed a bit awkward and uncomfortable. Once he tries to break forward the ball tends to get stuck under his feet or goes half a yard too far in front of him, forcing him to make an unprecise pass or putting the ball out.

What level do I think he is:

He is a good defender, I like him and I think he does the minimum of what you expect from a defender of a team challenging for a Champions League spot.

And when you consider he’ll only turn 23 in the end of May, then you’d have to say he could even be considered to be amongst the better young defenders in Europe.

With most top teams have aging defenders or quite erratic youngsters, he could be quite a useful addition.

What level do I think he could reach:

I imagine that he’ll improve quite rapidly and could have a real break-through season within next couple of years, depending on where he is playing.

His speed is not that big a problem because he seems to be an intelligent defender who might learn how to get around this problem by using his strength and becoming better at reading opponents.

Young defender like him needs to be in a team that can offer a calm working environment with no instant pressure. At this moment Athletic Bilbao can offer it and if they get to Champions League for next season, he should definitely look to stay there.

If I had to pay 10 million euros rating: 5/10

A good rating for a young defender. He is not a 10 million euro defender just yet, but will probably become one worth more. Could even give him a 6/10 rating, but with defenders the risk is always quite big and depends a lot on the manager I’d have in charge of the team I’m buying him into.

I think he’d fit well into Premier League for example if he was to move in from Athletic, but I see him doing well in other top leagues outside of Spain too, once the language barrier has been overcome.

 
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Posted by on March 12, 2012 in Big Reports

 

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