Athletic Club dominated Las Palmas on Friday in a 5-1 rout at the San Mames. The three points have temporarily moved the Lions to 6th in the La Liga table which is where they need to be if they want to be back in Europe next season. Following the game, Ernesto Valverde spoke to the press and said that the key to the win was his side’s ability to create pressure and win back possession.
“It was a very complete game for us because we were able to control them with pressure. Playing a game like this and getting a big win always gives you a lot of confidence. The key to today’s game was our aggression in winning back possession and being calm in defense. We kept our pressure and it forced them to make mistakes. They did force our defense, but we stood well. Every time we stole the ball we were near the goal. We could have scored more in the first half, but we played even better in the second half. There are several games left and winning means a lot. We have to take every point at the San Mames and try to do the same on the road. We are going to play at Ipurua next week against a direct rival, so this win fills us with confidence.”
Valverde went on to praise Iker Muniain who scored two goals and put in a masterful performance. He also admitted that Mikel Balenziaga was substituted due to pain, but is hopeful that it is nothing serious.
“Muniain played a great game. His first goal surprised me. I did not expect him to try to go outside the wall, but I know he is capable. He did well to beat opponents on the wing and gave us more spacing. I substituted Mikel Balenziaga because he felt some pain in his back thigh. It was a precautionary change. Raul Garcia and Inaki did switch positions, but they can do that easily. We have done it before.”
In closing, the Athletic manager was asked whether or not qualifying for Europe would help him decide on his future. However, Txingurri said that right now he is only focused on competing and finishing the season as strong as possible.
“My future has nothing to do with whether or not we are in Europe next season. I am only focused on competing. We will continue to compete and we will see how the season ends. We cannot slow down. Every win, every point, is huge. If we want to be in the Europa League next season, we have to keep playing like this. Every match is different, but you have to be confident, play hard, and have enthusiasm.”
Friday’s win means that Athletic Club now sit 6th in the La Liga with 53 points, just one point behind Villarreal. The Lions will now travel to Ipurua on 24 April to take on Eibar in yet another Basque Derby. It will be a huge match for both sides, made even more complicated by their positions in the league table. Athletic is unbeaten in Basque Derbies this season and will need that to continue if they want to qualify for Europe once again.