Athletic Club will play their seventh Basque Derby of the season on Monday when they travel to Ipurua to take on rivals Eibar. The Lions are unbeaten in Derbies this season, but this match could prove difficult for Ernesto Valverde’s team. Eibar currently trail Athletic in the La Liga table by three points, so a win would be vital for either side. Following training on Wednesday, Markel Susaeta spoke to the press and was immediately asked about his career with Athletic and becoming the player with the ninth most games in club history.
“They tell me that things have gone well for me, that I have been lucky with things like injuries. I am very personally and collectively proud of what has happened in my career these ten years. It delights me, but I do not look at it too much. I will count my games and reflect on my career when I retire. For now, the goal is clear. I’m only thinking about Monday’s game and being in Europe next year. ”
Susaeta then discussed Eibar as an opponent, saying that they are very strong and will come into the game with a lot of confidence. He said that their Basque neighbors deserve to be fighting for Europe because they have been playing at a high level all season.
“They are at home and will be playing with confidence. Eibar is a very strong team with a solid defense. If we want to get something positive we will have to play a very good match. We will have to be very intense because they play with a lot of intensity too. Their forwards have a lot of confidence and have played well this season so we will need to counter that and make things difficult for them. They have been very good since coming to the Primera. They struggled some at first, but this year has been totally different. They have kept a high level, with good rotations, and they deserve to be where they are. You won’t see many empty seats on Monday.”
The winger believes that Athletic is playing their best football of the season and it couldn’t have come at a better time. With six games left on the calendar, Susaeta hopes that the team will ride their excellent form to victories and qualify for European competition once again.
“We are probably in the best moment of the season for these last six games. We are playing well and scoring goals. Let’s hope we can finish up these six games with great results. For our goals, we have to get points away from the San Mames. Just winning at home won’t be enough. If we win on Monday, then our lead over Eibar would be six points. These next six games will be difficult and important. The game against Eibar isn’t a final, but it will decide a lot for both teams.”
In closing, Susaeta was asked about the future of Ernesto Valverde. The 29-year-old refused to discuss the topic, saying instead that the manager will make his decision public whenever he chooses to do so.
“Valverde’s future is up to him. He will make the decision that he thinks is best and his future isn’t any of our business. He’s already said that he will say something when something has been decided. What we have to do is qualify for Europe again. Whatever happens next year, we will see.”
Athletic Club could be without two very important players against Eibar. Mikel Balenziaga and Benat have both missed training this week due to muscle discomfort and may not be cleared in time for the match at Ipurua. Luckily, the Lions do not play until Monday night, so the extra rest may be just enough to see their fitness return in time. Athletic is currently one point off of 5th place in the La Liga table and could even put pressure on the last Champions League spot with a big win over Eibar.