Athletic Captain Markel Susaeta addressed the media following Tuesday’s training session in his usual transparent manner. The 30-year-old began by discussion the recent 2-0 win over Real Betis, which he believes is a result to build on in the final two games of the season. He was also asked about the fact that manager Kuko Ziganda used three center-backs in that game and could elect to do so again this weekend against Alaves. Susaeta simply said that he can’t comment on those ideas but the decisions are not up to him.
“After such a difficult season, where we had a hard time winning games at home, we took a big step forward against Betis with a more than deserved 2-0 win. It wasn’t the first time we had played with three center-backs, but it is true that this time it came out the best. The team played with joy, had a good start, and created several chances in our opponent’s area. Will we use it again? I’m not the one who decides that. This year hasn’t been easy for anyone, but we want to finish as strong as possible and have good feelings going into the summer.”
Turning his attention to Alaves, Susaeta remarked that they will be a difficult opponent. Their Basque neighbors have had a strong season, especially at home. Susaeta also went out of his way to praise former Athletic winger Ibai Gomez who has been one of the best players for Alaves this season. In the end, he believes that if the Lions can repeat their intensity used against Betis that they will stand a good chance to take all three points.
“Alaves will be a difficult opponent. They have had an impressive run and we know they are very strong at home. They play hard, have confidence, and want to finish higher up the table. We have to equal their intensity and play with the same energy that we did against Betis. If we do that well then we will have a good chance of taking three points. Ibai? We all know him well and he is capable of scoring many goals at any time. He is one of their most outstanding players, but he is not the only one. There are many important players in their team.”
In closing, the Captain was asked about the recent comments from Ziganda who said that only Kepa, Córdoba, and Nuñez have had great seasons. Susaeta believes that you have to respect what the manager has to say on the issue and that all you can do as a player is go out every day and train to get better. It hasn’t been a good year and that has made many of the players feel angry and helpless because they haven’t been able to turn things around.
“It is his assessment and we must respect his words. We can only focus on playing well and training hard. The decisions about comings and going in the summer does not concern us at all. Ziganda has treated all of us the same since the beginning of the season. There have been very difficult moments this year and sometimes we would all get together and saw we were going to turn things around, but we haven’t been consistent enough to achieve that. When it seemed that we were going to start climbing the table we would play badly and lose. It has generated feelings of anger and helplessness because we haven’t lived up to our best.”
Saturday’s match against Alaves will be the final Basque Derby of the season which will give plenty of motivation for Athletic to play for a victory. The Lions will be without Raúl García, who recently underwent a heart operation to correct a mild arrhythmia, and could also miss Mikel Balenziaga and Iñigo Lekue who are both nursing leg injuries that were suffered in training. Still, Ziganda will be able to put a very strong lineup on the field as the Basque giants look to finish the season as strong as possible.