With Benzema and Vinicius in front, any team is in trouble, but Athletic will have a more important one against Real Madrid this Sunday (9:00 p.m., Dazn). Except for a miracle, on Sunday at San Mamés they will play without their two most senior central theorists. He is bone in the defensive backbone. The miracle would be Iñigo Martínez’s recovery from his plantar fasciitis, one of the ailments he has suffered since the start of the season. The rojiblanco footballer has only played nine games since the start of the League: he failed in the first four days, he joined the team in the fifth and started until November 4, in the defeat of Athletic in Girona (2-1) . Since then he has not played an official match again, although he did play a friendly at El Plantío against Burgos on December 15.
Every week, Ernesto Valverde is asked about the state of the center back. The answer is always the same: “He won’t be there for the next game, we’ll see for the next one.” The last time he said it was in the run-up to the cup match against Espanyol. That match was played by Vivian, on the left, and on the right, Yeray, the fittest man in the Bilbao defense, but who will not be able to play against Real Madrid due to the one-match ban imposed on him by the Competition Committee after being sent off on Saturday in the derby against Real. Appeal ratified the measure and the last resort of the TAD, to which Athletic requested the precautionary suspension, has not had a run either.
For Valverde it is a fatality. The action of the party in Anoeta, a penalty of which the Technical Committee of Referees says it repudiates, after a struggle between the Athletic center-back and Take Kubo, was heavily protested by the rojiblanco club, but leaves the coach with few options to face a vanguard as substantial as Real’s Madrid. Among the regulars will only be Vivian. The man from Vitoria has started eleven games, and is a guarantee at the back, but he will probably have to share a line with Aitor Paredes, a promising 22-year-old youth player who Valverde has brought onto the field in four games , but he only accumulates 45 minutes on his league resume, plus another 22 in the Cup against Eldense (1-6). Forced by circumstances, his greatest participation occurred on Saturday against Real, after the expulsion of Yeray.
At the end of last season, Athletic had an important wardrobe to occupy the position of central defender, as Iñigo Martínez, Yeray and Vivian were joined by Unai Núñez, with solid experience in the First Division, but the coaches decided that the This position was sufficiently covered and they agreed to transfer Núñez to Celta, where he is playing most of the minutes. He did it with Coudet and is also a regular with Carlos Carvalhal. It is an operation with a purchase option, but the player would only return to Athletic if the Bilbao club decided to get him back; Otherwise, Celta would have to pay the eight million euros that his transfer costs.
In addition, the list of central defenders can lose more weight if Iñigo Martínez, whose contract ends on June 30, decides not to renew for Athletic. Despite not being called up by Luis Enrique for the World Cup, the player born in Ondarroa (Bizkaia) and raised in football at Real Sociedad has been a solid value in recent seasons, but it is not at all clear that he will renew for Athletic, because In addition, he could end up, without a transfer in between, in any other club. Barcelona was one of the options being considered by its representatives, who to this day have not had any approach with the Bilbao club. The last time the player spoke about the matter, in a radio interview, he stated that: “My future is not clear at all. At the end of the season, let it be what God wants”.
The messages from the board chaired by Jon Uriarte have varied somewhat. In the electoral campaign they affirmed that “the renewal of Iñigo Martínez is a priority”, but from within, after learning about the economic situation of the club, which is not bad, but it does worry in the long term, the discourse has changed: “To the When undertaking transfer or renewal operations, we must be aware of the situation in which we find ourselves”.
For now, however, is the very short term. This Sunday in San Mamés Vivian will play, surely with Paredes by her side. It will be quite a test for the couple, who will face the Ballon d’Or, Karim Benzema, and that nightmare called Vinicius.
You can follow EL PAÍS Sports on Facebook Y Twitteror sign up here to receive our weekly newsletter.