Athletic returned from their trip to Switzerland on Tuesday and were back work at the Lezama center the following afternoon. Inaki Williams and Kepa Arrizabalaga also joined their teammates on Wednesday, bringing Ziganda’s squad to 29 players. After the latest training session, Mikel Balenziaga spoke to the press to discuss the friendlies in Switzerland as well as the upcoming Europa League tie against Dinamo Bucuresti. First, he made it clear that having everyone back makes the whole team better.
“Everyone already understands the system. Inaki and Kepa are back with us and they will have to be updated. We wanted them to be back together with us as soon as possible. The more that can contribute to the team, the better. Their incorporation is good news. Yeray? We all know the situation and the process. I’m sure he will recover and be back with us soon. He seems to be doing well and in a good mood. Myself? I can’t live in the past or expect to be the starter. We have at least two great players at every position so you have to compete for your place every day. I’m proud to have played this much as an Athletic player the last few years.”
When asked about the Festival of the Alps, Balenziaga said that the players learned a lot about Ziganda’s style. They also played in three friendlies which has gone a long way to helping the team prepare for the season ahead.
“It was very comfortable and good for us. The manager has given us his ideas and what he wants from the team. We have competed well in these preseason games. We are doing what he asks us to do and the sensations have been good. The team looks very complete. The three games served for us to see where we are, how we want to play, and what we need to improve. We have given a good image. The has been solid and defended well.”
Balenziaga also took a moment to describe Kuko Ziganda, saying that he is very intense and animated. The players feel very comfortable training under him and are appreciate of the fact that he likes to keep an open dialogue between everyone.
“Kuko is very intense and animated. He is constantly working and correcting. It’s good for us. Every coach is different. What I like the most is the normality that he transmits in the day to day. Because of that we feel comfortable. He lets the defense be intense after a giveaway so that we can squeeze the opponent and win back possession. We can be part of the attack because the idea is to always be playing forward with the ball. Kuko likes to talk to the players and hear our ideas. It’s good to have such open dialogue between the players and coaches.”
In closing, Balenziaga looked ahead to next week’s game against Dinamo Bucuresti saying that it is a must-win game. The Lions want to continue playing in Europe and know that they will have to conquer the Romanians if they are to advance in the tournament. Before that day comes, they will two more friendlies.
“We have played in Europe the last few years and that is what we want to continue doing. We have the match against Dinamo and we have to win it like previous ones. We are delighted because we want to continue for another year in the Europa League. Now we have two difficult games ahead against Brugge and Valladolid. They will help serve to prepare us for the game next Thursday. The team is ready to compete.”
Mikel Balenziaga and Athletic Club will be back in action on Friday when they will travel to take on Club Brugge in their fourth friendly of the preseason. Next they will have a game against Real Valladolid from Spain’s Segunda before their Europa League clash with Dinamo next Thursday. There are only a handful of days remaining before the season officially begins so every single training session and friendly is as important as ever.