Athletic is currently preparing for their last home game of the season that will see them host Leganes at the San Mames on Sunday. The Lions could qualify for the Europa League with a win, coupled with a Real Sociedad loss. Following training on Friday, Ernesto Valverde spoke to the press to discuss the upcoming game and made it clear that it is not going to be easy.
“We have to win against Leganes on Sunday. We are now dependent on ourselves, even though a win would not necessarily guarantee anything. We are sixth and, in principle, will continue in sixth with a win. During the game we won’t be watching other match results, we will look at that at the end of the game. Leganes isn’t going to give us anything easy. They need to earn at least one point and don’t want to have to wait until the last game to do that. For us Saborit is injured and Balenziaga left training. Laporte is also suspended so we are short on the left side.”
Valverde also took a chance to recognize Gorka Iraizoz who will be leaving the club at the end of the season. After a decade as the starting keeper, he was overtaken by Kepa Arrizabalaga. Valverde says that he deserves all the praise in the world, but would not reveal whether or not he will start for Athletic.
“Gorka is always available and we could use him. My intention is to put the best team on the pitch to win the game so I won’t say whether or not he will start. Iraola and Gurpegui did play their last home game, but the circumstances are different this time. It is a position that you generally do not change when there isn’t a problem. I’m not going to say who will start. Gorka has been an example to everything and have maintained his level and behavior on and off the field, just like Iraola and Gurpegui. Iraizoz has the praise and recognition of us all. This year has been difficult for him, but he has been outstanding.”
Looking ahead to the match, Valverde reminded everyone that Leganes put up a very difficult fight in their first meeting. He also discussed the recent comments of Iago Herrerin who said that he doesn’t want to already be labeled a backup when he returns to Athletic next season. The manager believes that desire to play is good, but that players also have to accept their roles.
“Leganes has players who are fast and gave us a lot of problems in the first meeting. We got a point in that game, but deserved more. They played well at home and now we must do the same. They are a rival that can cause problems. Iago [Herrerin] and Unai Lopez cannot play, but Moran and Bustinza can. I do not think that gives them an extra advantage. Both sides are playing for something big. The fact that Iago wants to compete and play regularly is not bad. He has gone to Leganes to grow and he has the continuity of playing weekend to weekend. There comes a time when everyone has to appreciate that. It is good that players want to become starters because it makes them work harder, but you must also accept your role in the team because not everyone can play each week.”
In closing, Valverde would not reveal whether or not this will be his last home game in charge of Athletic Club. He has yet to make a decision regarding his future in Bilbao, but did say that this will, of course, be Iraizoz’s last game that there will be time to pay respects to the legendary keeper.
“I do not know if this will be my last game at the San Mames, I don’t know. It will be for Gorka and maybe some other players, whoever they are. In the last matches of the season you have to win and that is our goal. We will let Gorka say goodbye, but above all we need to win. Sunday is the last game of the season at the San Mames and we want to win.”
Athletic has been absolutely fantastic at home this season, losing only twice on all competitions. They will need another big win on Sunday to keep their Europa League dreams alive and could qualify depending on how other games go across La Liga. The Lions will be without a few important players, but Valverde is still expected to be able to field a very strong starting lineup.