Yeray Is Full Of Confidence Ahead Of Clash With Atlético Madrid
Yeray defeated cancer for the second time last year and has established himself as one of the best center-backs in La Liga this season. The 24-year-old has become a leader for Athletic and is full of confidence heading into Saturday’s match against Atlético Madrid. In fact, the Lezama product conducted interviews with both Marca and Mundo Deportivo where he discussed several topics, including what the Lions will be facing at San Mamés this weekend.
“In the end, Atlético are coming from a complicated week after being eliminated in the Champions League. We know what we are facing and how this is going to be. Atlético is a team that knows exactly how they want to play. They are tight and the counter-attack is their greatest strength. They also have world-class players who can score out of nowhere. We have to counteract all of that.
They are also good on set-pieces. That is one of their strengths, but lately we aren’t conceding chances, not even corners. We are the team that gives up the fewest corner kicks in the league. You always want to face players who are at the highest level. You know the challenge, but we have been demonstrating that we can be at a good level no matter who the opponent is.
Honestly, I have no preference of who I’d like to defend. I’ve faced Morata fewer times, and the same with Diego Costa. They are two hard bones to crack, but we will try to be our best version. Griezmann is always a dangerous player and has done well against us in recent years. We’ve had a hard time creating chances and they tighten the field. They defend well and it’s true that we have struggled to create danger against them, but that’s in the past.
Our goal is clear. This Saturday we are going to turn around that deficit that we have in front of goal and we are going to get the victory. What people want is for the team to win. It’s true that we had a very bad dynamic where we couldn’t get points and we were in the relegation zone. The team was down and we didn’t turn things around until Gaizka arrived and the victories came. Now we have lost two games and the fans have come down a little. This game on Saturday is a good chance for us to make San Mamés a fortress.”
Athletic have come a long way from the struggles they faced under Eduardo Berizzo. Yeray admitted that the players were close to the Argentine, but his system just didn’t work. Now, with Gaizka Garitano leading the team, Athletic are playing a style of football that takes advantage of their strengths.
“Although we got along very well and we were fond of Berizzo, in the end things didn’t go like we wanted. We tried, but it didn’t work. There was a change, which has been good for us. The team is much more together, much more united, and that is reflected in the result. That style of football can be used during a game, but you can’t do it for 90 minutes which is what we were trying to do. The whole game was practically individual duels. You can win many of those, but if you lose just one it makes all the others nothing because it will cost you a goal.
No matter what position you play, each manager has his own way of seeing football and his own way of interpreting it and teaching you how to play. Everyone has their style and each style is respectable. Now we are playing a simpler game. We had 60% possession against Espanyol. If the opponent lets us have the ball we will take it because we like that, but if the opponent presses up we will be patient because we don’t want to make mistakes at the back.
I already had a good relationship with Patxi last season when I was returning from my illness. He adds a lot to the group, although he doesn’t like to look outside of Athletic. He’s someone who has a lot of confidence and you can tell him anything. He gives us a lot, especially me.”
It was difficult for the players to be in a relegation battle. It affected the team mentally and Yeray revealed that he had trouble sleeping at night. He had already faced it before when Bilbao Athletic were relegated from the second division, but it was a completely different situation with the first team.
“In the locker room, there were nerves and uncertainty, a desire to get rid of the pressure we had under Berizzo. Everyone was down and it was hard to turn things around. After each match I usually didn’t sleep until 5 or 6 in the morning. Those days were difficult. We didn’t achieve the objectives that the coach gave us. We saw it, we understood it, and we practiced it, but it wasn’t working and that makes you nervous. The results eventually came to us and those below us didn’t win either. We were able to take the burden off. There wasn’t danger but there was tension. We heard the talk that it can’t happen at Athletic, the team has never been relegated. We could not stain the shield so we had a very clear goal.
The battle was different from when Bilbao Athletic was relegated. When we arrived in the Segunda we knew that it was going to be very complicated. There were many injuries, although it was also an incredible team. We had managed to earn promotion, but things didn’t go our way. We tried, but even luck wasn’t with us. It was a different year. We didn’t throw it away and we were able to learn a lot.”
On Saturday Unai Nuñez will be starting beside Yeray with Iñigo Martinez suspended. Yeray made it clear that he’s comfortable playing with any of his teammates, although he does have a special relationship with Martinez. He also took a moment to praise Martinez who has been called up to the Spain National Team.
“We have four center-backs in the team, although Nolaskoain has perhaps played more with Bilbao Athletic. Unai Nuñez is also a great defender, he proved that last year. I am very comfortable with whoever I’m playing with. Iñigo and I understand each other very well because we have similarities. We give each other confidence and I think that’s noticeable.
Iñigo has been called up to the Selection and he deserves it. I wish I was able to go. The level that I am showing is good and if that opportunity comes to me it would be a very big prize. I also say that if the call doesn’t come I will continue to be fully focused on the team, the competition, and the league.”
Interestingly, Yeray confessed that he is becoming obsessed with scoring his first goal. He’s had several chances, but so far it hasn’t happened. That being said, Yeray hopes to change that on Saturday against Atlético Madrid. He also thinks that Iñaki Williams is developing into a great forward with Aritz Aduriz having missed the last 2 months with a knee injury.
“I still haven’t scored my first goal and the truth is that I’ve been thinking about it. It’s becoming an obsession because it isn’t easy. I’ve had chances, but so far it hasn’t happened. It will come this year before the end of the season, I’m sure. I hope it’s against Atlético Madrid. We’ve had problems scoring goals as a team, but it’s something we are improving as a group.
Aduriz, Kodro, Iñaki, Guru…each one is a great striker with different strengths. Aduriz is better in the air, Iñaki is faster, everyone takes advantage of their qualities. We are doing well with Iñaki, although it’s true that he lacks that look in front of goal. In some games he’s shown that he can score goals and little by little he will do even better. He’s showing that he can be a striker and he can be a great scorer.”
Other than a slight groin issue earlier this season, Yeray has enjoyed being on the field every week. He’s already forgotten the injury and is focused on building as much confidence as possible. The defender is still involved in cancer outreach, although he doesn’t like to talk about it. Yeray doesn’t want to be in the spotlight, but he also recognizes how he can help others who are facing the same battle.
“I’m doing well. I spent about a month dealing with a groin problem and I’ve practically forgotten about it. Those discomforts, whether in games or training at Lezama, can affect you. I can already say that I’ve forgotten the issue and I’m having continuity in the team.
I passed my exam one year ago and now every six months I have proof. The doctor tells me that everything is great, that everything is going well; but I have to keep doing it and it’s a way of not forgetting about what you’ve gone through. Yes, I’m still collaborating with causes to the fight against cancer. I don’t like to talk about those things, they belong in the private sphere. As an Athletic player who has gone through this, the public sees it as an example of overcoming and that gives a lot.
When I play I try to enjoy it as much as possible. What a defender likes most is defending and stopping chances. When I do that in San Mamés it’s very special. Yes, had it not been for my illness I would have already played 100 games. What you want is continuity. It gives you confidence to be at your best level. Lately I’m having that continuity and I want to continue like this. When you play several games in a row it shows. Except for the suspension because of cards I’ve had the longest streak of games and this is the most comfortable I’ve ever been. Defensively we have been doing very well except these last two games conceding three goals. The truth is that we are all very comfortable.”