Athletic Club will be playing their final Basque Derby of the season on Sunday when they travel to the Mendizorroza to take on Alaves. A win could see the Lions climb as high as fifth in the league table and move to within three points of the last Champions League spot. Midfielder Mikel Rico was a special guest on the Fuera de Juego show on Radio Euskadi to discuss the upcoming match and praised his side’s recent form away from the San Mames.
“We have taken a big step forward away from home. We were struggling a lot and have turned that around. We are doing well in the table now, but Villarreal and Real Sociedad are too. Finishing in the top six will be complicated. It would be very difficult to finish fourth, but it is still a real possibility. We haven’t played the best football this season but we are still in the fight for Europe. Right now we are playing with confidence; this is our best football of the year. Alaves is having an incredible season and deserve much praise. Winning at Mendizorroza would be huge for us because it is very important to get three points.”
Rico was also asked about his lack of playing time this season and the rumor that he has been offered the chance to renew his contract. The 32-year-old denied that he has received any type of offer and also praised Yeray and Kepa Arrizabalaga who have played big roles in the team since being promoted over the summer.
“You are never happy when you play less. Everyone trains hard to get minutes, but it is the coach who decides. I have one year remaining on my contract and my plan is to fulfill that contract. If Athletic had offered me a renewal I would have already signed it. There is nothing in the Huesca rumors. How are the promoted players doing? Yeray has been the biggest surprise to me. He is having the best season of anyone because he is strong and focused. Kepa is a having a great year too. He is a wonderful keeper and he’s been proving that every game.”
Athletic is unbeaten in Basque Derbies this season and will need to keep that going if that want to qualify for Europe once again. Alaves has been looking forward to this game since earning promotion back to the Primera so you can believe that they will be a very challenging opponent. Luckily, Ernesto Valverde will have his entire squad available and, with an entire week since their last game, will field his strongest lineup in hopes of taking all three points at the Mendizorroza.