Mikel Balenziaga “It’s Difficult To Win In This League, But We Will End The Season With Good Feelings”
Mikel Balenziaga was back in the starting lineup on Sunday as Athletic played Barcelona to a scoreless draw at the San Mamés. The 30-year-old was once again called on to play strong defense and succeeded in making things extremely difficult for Lionel Messi and company. On Tuesday Balenziaga spoke with Radio Popular where he admitted that he thinks Athletic were the better team, but that everyone is happy with the draw.
“We were close to the victory and that would have taken us to higher positions, but the point is very positive. We played a great game. We were better and we had the clearest chances. Two points escaped us, but before the game if you had asked us we would have said that a draw would be a good result. We showed that we can play with anyone, but that’s something you have to prove week after week.”
Athletic are enjoying their fine run of form under Gaizka Garitano, however Balenziaga knows that La Liga is extremely competitive this season. Any team can win a game and the relegation battle at the bottom of the table is tighter than it has ever been.
“We are having a good run. Last week we weren’t at the level, but we are competing well. Taking points like this is the line to follow. The teams further down in the table are adding more points than in other years, everything is very tight. I think we are going to keep moving up and finish higher than we are right now. The team is doing well. It’s difficult to win in this league, but we will end the season with good feelings.”
Speaking of Garitano, Balenziaga praised the manager who has been able to convey his ideas and system to the players very easily. Everyone knows what they are supposed to do on the field and the results prove that Athletic are playing much better football under the Mister.
“Garitano likes to work hard. He pushes you in every training and gets the most out of each player. We are very comfortable with his way of leading, preparing throughout the week, and facing each game. He is transmitting what he wants from Athletic in each game very well. We are comfortable with what we have to do on the field and we will go further this season.”
The biggest improvement under Garitano has been the defense who are giving up very few chances. Clean sheets have become quite common and Balenziaga remarked that the team has no problems defending for long stretches if needed. That being said, the Lions want to have the ball and control games.
“We are a close team and the defense has improved a lot. We have the patience that if we have to go 10 minutes without the ball we can do it and we don’t suffer. The idea is to have the ball and control the game, but there are very good teams in this league and there will be times when we have to defend well. The coach has conveyed his idea to us from the first team and we are showing it in matches.”
In closing, Balenziaga was asked about the future of Aritz Aduriz who is still recovering from a knee sprain and has yet to sign a renewal. Balenziaga quickly said that it’s a question for the 38-year-old to answer, but that the team would love for him to continue playing next season.
“That’s a question for him, he has to decide if he wants to continue another year or not. We are delighted by what he has given and what he can still give us. Kenan Kodro has adapted well in just a short time. His debut was very good news and he can be important for us. He played well.”
The draw against Barcelona saw Athletic end the season 13th in the La Liga table and just 5 points off of Europe. Now the Zurigorri are preparing for Monday night’s trip to Huesca which will be another big challenge for Garitano’s squad. Mikel Balenziaga could start once again, but there is also a very good chance that the manager will return to his usual lineup with Yuri Berchiche at left-back. Either way Athletic have played great football no matter who is on the field and picking up three points at El Alcoraz could see the Basques climb as high as 10th in the standings.