Mikel Balenziaga has been one of Athletic Club’s most consistent players over the last few years and is a mainstay in the starting lineup. Last week he missed a few training sessions, which happened again during Thursday’s team practice in preparation for Atletico Madrid on Sunday. Afterwards, Balenziaga spoke to the media and revealed that he is dealing with various muscle pain and that is the reason that training sessions have not been as heavy for him. He says he will absolutely play on Sunday.
“I have a lot of muscle pain these last few weeks at the end of the season and we have reduced my amount and intensity of training. I will still be able to line up and play on Sunday. It is all up to the coach to decide, but I am good to play.”
The left-back went on to say that it is vitally important for the Lions to win on Sunday. If they can accomplish that, they will seal their place in next year’s Europa League. But if they finish seventh, they will have to rely on Barcelona winning the Copa del Rey if they are to be back in Europe.
“We are playing to be fifth or sixth. If we win we have it, but if we lose we could be waiting another week to see the result of the Copa del Rey. We want to finish in that fifth place spot and for that we have to win on Sunday. We have a lot of character – this team, this group, our coach. We know that winning on Sunday will be very difficult but they have important players missing and we are playing for our season. Nothing is decided yet so we have to close out our season with what we deserve, which is being in Europe.”
Atletico Madrid will be without five key defensive players which could naturally make things easier. Still, Balenziaga says that their opponents will be very difficult to beat. Regardless, he thinks Athletic has what it takes to earn three points at the Vicente Calderon.
“To beat Atletico you have to do everything very well. You have to play with intensity, which characterizes us, and make things hard for them from the very beginning. They are good but we believe in our abilities. We said goodbye to Iraizoz last week in a way that he deserves, with the fans and the team on the field. Now we want to win the last game of his career here. If we finish in seventh place we will be solely dependent on Barcelona winning the Cup.”
This Sunday’s match will be the final game ever at the Vicente Calderon, as well as the last match of the season. Athletic Club needs a good result to book their place in Europe next year and Ernesto Valverde will have basically his entire team at his disposal. Atletico Madrid has already accomplished their goal of a top three finish, but saying goodbye to their stadium will give them reason enough to play for a victory.