Iker Muniain “It Will Be A Beautiful Game And We Will Face It With Enthusiasm”
When Athletic Club and Valencia met earlier this season both teams were in a bad place. They were struggling for positive results and desperately needed to turn the season around quickly. Now the historic La Liga sides will face off again on Sunday at the Mestalla and this time will be very different. Today they are both in the top half of the table, tied on 33 points, and the winner of the game could move as high as 7th. Iker Muniain addressed the media after Friday’s training session and highlighted just how important this match will be.
“Yesterday Valencia managed to get into the Cup final and they will surely be very high in morale and confidence. It will be an important match. We both have the same points in the table. Valencia is a very organizd team, patient, they recover balls, and they come out fast on the counter. The have great determination. I want to play these types of important matches in a great stadium and with the atmosphere that is going to be there. It will be a beautiful game and we will face it with great enthusiasm. Hopefully we will return to Bilbao with the three points.”
Looking at his own team, Muniain noted that Athletic are playing great football from the opening kickoff to the final whistle. They are in sensational form and the goal on Sunday will be to play the same type of football that has yielded great results over the past few months.
“The team is very well physically, from start to finish. We are organized, we press when necessary, and we are doing well at the end of the matches. We will fight on Sunday for what we want and what we have been doing during these weeks. We have achieved victories and important results away from home. We have a good dynamic and this Sunday we will try to keep it going.”
Of course, Athletic will need to prepare for how Valencia play, but the Lions prefer to focus on what they need to do themselves. Being tied in the table makes Valencia a direct rival for European qualification and Muniain believes that Athletic can start competing for a top 7 finish.
“The opponent must always be taken into account but the main thing is us, what we do, our style, and how we are going to play to get the victory. These three points are very important. Valencia are direct rivals and it would also mean three straight wins. Nobody wins easy. The matches are very close today but all the work we do at Lezama is paying off. It’s evident that now we are closer to the European positions than relegation. It hasn’t been that way most of the season. We have more options to re-engage in the fight for Europe.”
Even though Athletic are now 10 points clear of the relegation zone, they can’t forget where they were earlier this year. It’s important to take the season one game at a time and Muniain thanked the fans who have shown great support which has helped the team turn things around.
“At the beginning of the season, when we were in a bad dynamic, we all suffered. Thanks to the great work of the team, coaching staff, and the fans, we have managed to turn the situation around. The fans knew that we were having a delicate moment and instead of going against us, as they have always done, they have turned with us. San Mamés has been a pressure cooker.”
During yesterday’s press conference Iñigo Martinez said that he hopes Gaizka Garitano stays at Athletic for a long time. Muniain immediately agreed with his teammate when asked the same question, citing the fact that Athletic have played at a much higher level since the manager took over in December.
“I agree with what Iñigo Martinez said yesterday. I hope Gaizka is with us for a long time. Since he arrived he helped us turn around a situation that was very bad and, thanks to him, the team has shown a different version. Since he arrived he managed to get us out of the relegation zone and put us in a good area and just a few points off of Europe. We must value that. What he has done is very big.”
Sunday’s match at the Mestalla could be the one that defines the rest of the season. A win has the potential to launch the Lions as high as 7th in the table, which will likely be enough to qualify for the Europa League, but anything less will keep Athletic at mid-table. The Zurigorri are playing their best football in two years, but this will be a massive test.