La Liga is up and running and so is Ander Barrenetxea’s season, with the 19-year-old featuring in Real Sociedad’s opening three fixtures. The young Spaniard has the potential to develop into a high-quality player and this season the hope is to see further progress in the La Real player’s game.

Born in 2001, Barrenetxea did not wait long to make his mark in Spanish football as the young prospect became the first player born in the 21st century to feature in La Liga. That milestone occurred in December 2018, when Barrenetxea made his debut as a substitute in a 1-0 defeat at home to fellow Basque side Deportivo Alavés.

The youngster, who was born in San Sebastián, has featured for both B and C teams of Real Sociedad and he featured regularly for the first team in the 2019/20 season, before seeing his playing time increase further in La Real’s 2020/21 season. 

Impressively at only 19 years of age, Barrenetxea has already appeared 76 times for his boyhood club, which has included appearances in the Europa League.

Primarily a wide player, the exciting prospect can play on the left or right side, but normally operates down the left wing for Real Sociedad.

Barrenetxea is an accomplished dribbler, and his ability to carry the ball is one of his main strengths. Last season, he topped most of the dribbling stats for his side, as the youngster went past more opposition players in La Liga than any of his teammates, and in the Real Sociedad squad, only Adnan Januzaj had more successful dribbles in the league than Barrenetxea. 

He possesses a low centre of gravity, that allows him to move and drift past defenders at ease. In addition, the Real Sociedad number 22 has wonderful close ball control due to his incredible technical ability and those attributes allow him to dribble at pace and bamboozle opposition players. His dribbling seems to be improving further, in the first three games of this season he has had nine successful dribbles, five more than any other La Real team-mate. Amazingly, in the opening three fixtures, he has dribbled past ten opposition players.

The youngster is still a raw talent; therefore, he has areas of his game that need improvement. One aspect he can improve upon is his finishing because if Barrenetxea is going to prosper in the final third of the pitch he needs to be contributing more. Interestingly last season he did outperform his xG slightly, scoring three league goals with an xG of 1.8, which could suggest rather than missing opportunities he is not regularly taking up goal-scoring positions.

It is exciting that Barrenetxea possesses the ability to dazzle defenders with his technical skill, but his hard work in those areas, would be rewarded if he could assist more goals for his side. Unfortunately, last season the winger did not set up any goals in the league, despite his expected assists (xA) being 2. Positively, it seems that this area has been worked upon over the summer, as he got an assist in the season opener at Camp Nou. Though, it remains to be seen if he can replicate that improvement throughout the season.

Although there are areas to develop, it is obvious the youngster is highly regarded, not just in San Sebastián, but on a national level. This is evident from the fact that he has featured for Spain at U18 and U19 levels and most recently at U21 level. Spain’s U21 head coach Luis de la Fuente has shown his trust in the talented starlet, by picking him in his squad for the upcoming international fixtures, which includes the qualifiers for the U21 Euros in 2023.

La Real also recognise his immense talent as in February he signed a contract extension to remain with his boyhood club until 30 June 2027.

The 2021/22 season could see Barrenetxea make further improvements, and there is evidence to suggest that could be happening. Though a small sample size, in the opening three games of La Liga he was involved in three-goal creating actions, which is only one less than he managed in the whole of last season. This seems to suggest that he has been working on improving his final ball. 

He also scored his first goal of the season against Levante at the weekend, and if he can continue to provide more chances and score more goals, then Barrenetxea could be pivotal for Real Sociedad for this season and many more seasons to come.

Ben Sully