Why Inaki Williams Is the Athletic Bilbao Player Barcelona Must Stop

Rik Sharma@@riksharma_Featured ColumnistJanuary 16, 2016

BARCELONA, SPAIN - MAY 30: Luis Suarez (R) of FC Barcelona passes the ball next to Inaki Williams during the Copa del Rey Final between Athletic Club and FC Barcelona at Camp Nou on May 30, 2015 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)
Alex Caparros/Getty Images

Athletic Club's best player is out suspended and unable to face FC Barcelona on Sunday night at Camp Nou. That's Aritz Aduriz. The 34, nearly 35-year-old hitman who just keeps on scoring.

Their second-best player is unavailable, too. Raul Garcia is out for up to 12 weeks with a torn medial collateral ligament in his left knee, per Marca.

So they are down to their No. 3 striker, and, based on this season's form, their third-best player, to lead the line against the current champions.

Inaki Williams has taken La Liga by storm this season, building on the base of last year's good start. His first appearance came after an Aduriz injury, so he's used to being the man to fill a gap.

Athletic Bilbao's forward Inaki Williams Arthuer (L) celebrates after scoring during the UEFA Europa League group L football match Athletic Club Bilbao vs FK Partizan at the San Mames stadium in Bilbao on November 5, 2015.   AFP PHOTO/ ANDER GILLENEA

Although he's a central striker, he's often used out in wider positions, most frequently on the left side. His electric pace has torn defences to shreds and now he gets a run at Barcelona.

Athletic head to the Catalan capital able to hold their head up high. They have played Barcelona three times this season already, with a 5-2 aggregate balance in their favour.

They destroyed Barcelona at the San Mames in the Spanish Super Cup first leg, winning 4-0, before drawing the away leg 1-1 to win the trophy.

The third game saw Barcelona earn some pride back, with a 1-0 win thanks to Luis Suarez in Bilbao.

Suarez, Neymar and Lionel Messi are all set to play, and all eyes will be on them. That means shouldering the weight may not mean there's as much pressure on Inaki's shoulders as there might have been.

What he has to do is what he does best. Or at least, one of the things. Run.

(L-R) Inaki Williams Dannis of Athletic de Bilbao, Ridgeciano Haps of AZ Alkmaar during the UEFA Europa League match between AZ Alkmaar and Athletic de Bilbao on October 1, 2015 at the AFAS stadium in Alkmaar, The Netherlands.(Photo by VI Images via Getty
VI-Images/Getty Images

Athletic will be penned back for large periods of the game. That means that when they can break, the onus will be on him to charge forward, tearing through space to try to punish Barcelona.

That's not because he's incapable of anything else. In fact, he's a skilful, intelligent forward, but it's just the smartest way to hurt the hosts.

And it utilises his superb speed. Although these things are never completely accurate measures of how quick players are when it comes to turning attacks in their favour, he is statistically the fastest player in La Liga.

The Daily Mail's Kieran Gill wrote: "Williams broke the record in Spain last season after being clocked at 22.2 miles per hour during a 1-1 draw with Deportivo in May."

The same report also linked Premier League sides Arsenal and Liverpool with the forward, saying they are interested in activating his "£15.3 million buyout clause in his current contract which expires in 2017."

Anyone who watches Athletic can see how his dynamism would attract English clubs, but he's also cunning enough to make his way in La Liga too.

The 21-year-old has six goals in 13 La Liga starts, more than any other player in the squad, bar Aduriz.

Athletic Bilbao's Spanish forward Inaki Williams celebrates after scoring during the UEFA Europe League round of 32 football match Torino Vs Athletic Bilbao on February 19, 2015 at the 'Olympic Stadium' in Turin.  AFP PHOTO / MARCO BERTORELLO        (Phot

Ernesto Valverde's side is a different team with Inaki, and he demonstrated some of his technical skills with his virtuoso goal against Espanyol.

One beautiful touch to flick the ball over two stranded defenders' heads, and another to rocket it into the top corner. A goal he will remember for the rest of his career.

Williams has four goals in his last six games, including two in the Copa del Rey over two legs against Villarreal, helping set up two more games against Barcelona in the Spanish cup competition.

Having seen how the direct play of Felipe Caicedo and Marco Asensio caused Barcelona problems in Espanyol’s recent series of games, Inaki has a template set out for him.

Whether or not he wants to leave Athletic is irrelevant. He probably doesn’t; it’s the club he has played for his whole career, he is adored by the fans and still growing and maturing.

But regardless, if he scores against Barcelona, the phone will be ringing off the hook.


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