Athletic Club current sit tied for fourth place in the La Liga table after a great start to the new season. On Sunday the Lions will have the chance to potentially move as high as the very top of table, depending on other results in Spain, and the team is busy gearing up for the game against Las Palmas. Before starting Saturday’s training session, manager Kuko Ziganda gave his normal pre-game press conference and had a lot to say about his team. He started off by giving an update on injured players, saying that Beñat and Ander Iturraspe are good to travel after missing out on Thursday’s Europa League clash with Hertha Berlin.
“Beñat is fine and good to play. He had some discomfort and it was only a precaution [to leave him behind on Thursday]. Mikel Rico is struggling with his ankle so he will not play this weekend and will get time to recover. De Marcos’ recovery is right on time. He is optimistic and wants to return as soon as possible, but the sprain has given him problems. The damage was on the inside of his ankle. Next week he should be able to return to training and take a definitive step forward. Iturraspe will travel; he is doing well.”
Ziganda then made it clear that Kepa Arrizabalaga will start in goal, but also praised the fact that the team has two great goalkeepers who are both playing at a very high level. He believes the competition between the two is making the team better. On the same note, the manager also revealed that he will continue rotating his team to keep everyone’s physical level as high as possible.
“The plan is that Kepa will play. It is great that we have two goalkeepers who are good and positive, playing at a high level. They are competing against each other and that is helping the team get results. They know their level and that it is important that they feel very plugged in. They give security and their competition feels good. They are both enjoying playing in goal and the team thanks them for their play. There will be some changes. We have three straight games so we ned to rest some and keep the physical level up. We will try to refresh the team.”
When discussing Las Palmas, Ziganda admitted that they are playing a bit differently this season. Instead of being a team that likes to combine play in attack, they are relying more on their speed and power up front. Still, the Lions want to impose their style of football and control the game from the opening whistle.
“We know the type of game that Las Palmas plays, although this year it is a big different. Their style doesn’t have the same support and it is not so combinational this year, but they have other types of resources. At the top they have powerful and fast players who can cause problems. We will try to impose our rhythm and lead from the initiative. It is difficult to lose when you are dominating, combining possession, and taking control from the beginning. I was hoping to win in Berlin and now that is our goal in the Canaries. It is only the start to the season, but we are in a process and there are many positive things. We are playing at a high level and we want to maintain it. We have a tough week ahead and we will try to play two good matches.”
In closing, Ziganda praised his team’s commitment to what they are doing on a daily basis. He said that when two or three players are standing out, the others aren’t far behind. That doesn’t mean that Athletic doesn’t have room for improvement, but they are playing at a high level. In the end, he said they are optimistic about Yeray’s return but that they are going to take it as slowly as he needs and not rush him back after his chemotherapy treatments are over.
“This team is tough, committed, and plugged in. When two or three players are playing at a high level, the rest come out there without a big difference between the. We need to improve our fluidity, passing, and have more confidence. We have room to improve but we are also doing a lot of things well. I do not believe in luck. We also cannot forget about Yeray because we are very optimistic about the process he is going through. We know his character and his heart and that he is going to make us a harder team to beat. He’s always with us and yes ,we are going to have a log of patience with him. We need players at their best level so there is no deadline for him to return. We will be calm and not put him in a hurry.”
Sunday’s match against Las Palmas is going to be another big one for Athletic Club. The Lions have yet to concede a goal in La Liga this year and have actually gone five straight games with clean sheets across all competitions. Las Palmas will not be an easy opponent. After losing their first two league games, they finally earned a win over Malaga and are playing with more confidence. Athletic will have to be at their best if they are going to pick up three more points and continue their strong start to the season.