Athletic Club have not given up hope on qualifying for Europe next season but the Lions currently find themselves eight points off the mark with only six games remaining on the schedule. Couple that with the fact that they will be travel to the Santiago Bernabeu to play against Real Madrid in their next game and things do not look promising. Manager Kuko Ziganda addressed the media on Tuesday ahead of the big match and made it clear that the team has to play with more dignity than ever before because of the history and the fact that they still have a goal that is attainable.
“We must be aware of the fact that there are six matches left and what we represent. We have to have more sporting dignity than ever and play with importance and rigor. We are aware of this club’s history, the fans, and the year that we have had. We are going into the next game with all the ambition in the world. This year has not been good at all, we know that, but it is also true that we still have something to play for, a very special objective. If we play well, the fans will be with us. That has to motivate us. This year we have failed more than we expected and now we hope that we will see some light at the end of the tunnel that we have been inside. We must be ambitious because of what this club represents.”
Ziganda went on to discuss Iker Muniain who has looked tremendous since returning from a torn ACL, saying that the attacker worked very hard to come back as quickly as possible. Muniain is a very important part of the Athletic team, as is Aritz Aduriz who has been the club’s driving offensive force over the last three years. The manager revealed that the reason Aduriz hasn’t been starting is because he has wanted to see some different things in the team lately, including Iñaki Williams playing as the striker.
“With how he rehabilitated it isn’t surprising how quickly he has come back to the team. He has come back at the right moment, with rested legs and opponents who are more tired. In both games his activity has been good for the team. He has recovered very well which is great for him. He gives a big spark to the team. The last two times Aduriz has been on the bench is because I wanted to see some other things because there were things that were not going well for us. We also want to see Iñaki in that role. We know what Aduriz gives us, but we wanted to try something else and for Aduriz to show another type of leadership off the field.”
Ziganda also praised Iñigo Córdoba and Unai Nuñez, both of whom were promoted over the summer, saying that they are the most exciting part of the season due to their immediate impact on the team. He revealed that Nuñez could be in the starting lineup again after missing the last game due to suspension, while also stating that the team expects Raúl García to be available despite missing some of practice lately. In fact, the manager should have everyone available expect for Xabi Etxeita who suffered a knee injury in the loss to Deportivo over the weekend.
“The best part of the season has been the two players who came to stay, Iñigo Córdoba and Unai Nuñez. They came into the team and fit from the start. They are the joy of the year because they play with a spark and with ambition. You can see that every day in training. Will Nuñez play? It is feasible to think that the two players who were suspended against Deportivo will feature tomorrow. Raúl García has missed some training, but we are also counting on him for tomorrow. The players and coaching staff know that things haven’t been good but that they can be improved. If we do things well, it will change fast. For instance, Mikel San José had a start to the year that wasn’t good, but he has caught his best form.”
In closing, the manager admitted that beating Real Madrid will be extremely difficult. That being said, he still wants to face the best that they have and play a great game like the recent 3-1 win over Villarreal. The Lions haven’t performed well at the Santiago Berabeu over the last few years, but matches between the two clubs have been intense. Ziganda was also asked about what he thinks will happen when the season ends, due to speculation over his departure, but he had no comment.
“If Real Madrid plays well they win and if they do not play well, they usually still win. I hope to see the best team. They are preparing for the semifinals of the Champions League, but they’ve been in peak form since March. They won’t be an easy opponent. We will try to play a great game, like against Villarreal, and show our best version. We know what it is like to play at the Bernabeu. We have had a lot of years in which we have struggled there, but we have to go with hope. We want to play our best tomorrow and give the fans something to be excited about. Am I thinking about next year? I am thinking about playing Real Madrid tomorrow.”
If Athletic can pull off a victory on Wednesday the Lions could move to within five points of seventh place depending on other results around La Liga. Beating Real Madrid on the road will not be easy, but this is an Athletic team that is finally healthy and starting to click in some positive ways. With only six games remaining, every single point is vital if they really want to challenge for European qualification. Tomorrow’s game poses a big threat to their goal so the Lions will have to be at their best if they want to take all three points.