Athletic Club were looking to buck the trend of poor results at the Santiago Bernabéu when they faced off with Real Madrid on Wednesday. Thanks to a beautiful chipped goal by Iñaki Williams they found themselves leading early in the match, but Real Madrid were able to pull level in the dying minutes of the game. It was a great performance from the Lions and after the game manager Kuko Ziganda addressed the media, saying that his team wants to end the season on a positive note after a string of four promising showings.
“When I asked for more sporting dignity, I was referring to doing something like today’s game. We needed to play with dignity, but we had to face a great team. We leave with a bittersweet taste because we also could have won, but in the end we have to be pleased with the game that we played. It hasn’t been a good year for us, we feel that we have missed opportunities. The last four games have been much better and we will try to finish the season on a positive note.”
Ziganda went on to say that the match demanded a lot out of Athletic who used a high pressing strategy from the opening whistle. He also praised his defense who kept their shape all game and made things extremely difficult for their hosts. Goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga was a big reason that Athletic was able to take away a point on the road and the manager made it clear that the entire club was happy to see the 23-year-old commit his future to the San Mamés with a new contract.
“The game was brutal and demanded a lot of us. We knew that if we were to win here our goalkeeper would have to be great, they would have to make mistakes, and we would have to be perfect. We played with good defensive shape and defended well. It is a shame that they tied the game so close to the end. Kepa trains very well, plays very well and helped us a lot today. I don’t know where Kepa ranks among the goalkeepers in the world, but he is a great player and we are happy to have him. He has renewed with Athletic for a lot of years and we are delighted.”
Over the past few weeks Iñaki Williams has been starting over Aritz Aduriz in the striker role, which has caused much debate among fans. Ziganda stated that the 23-year-old needed to rediscover his ability to play in the position and that he will only get better with the minutes that he plays. The manager also praised Iñigo Córdoba and Unai Nuñez who were only promoted over the summer and put on strong showings in a hostile Santiago Bernabéu.
“Iñaki went a long time without playing striker, so he needs to rediscover those habits and get comfortable finding the spaces. As soon as he puts together positive games he won’t stop. We trust Iñaki and Aduriz as well. Córdoba and Nuñez both played very well. They had added a lot to this team. It isn’t easy to come to the Bernabeu and show your best because this stadium can swallow you. I am pleased with the face we showed today and I think the fans are proud also.”
Athletic Club are currently eight points off of the last European qualifying spot in the La Liga table and now have five games remaining to try to make up that gap. The Lions will be back in action on Monday when they will play host to Levante who are still in a battle against relegation. With five days to prepare for the next match it wouldn’t be surprising to see Ziganda repeat the same starting lineup which has started to show positive signs due to the consistency. Monday’s match will be another final.