Unai López “We Have To Take Advantage Of The Support At San Mamés”
For the second straight year, Unai López is expected to be in the starting lineup to open the season. The midfielder has been working extensively alongside Dani García and has had a tremendous preseason. Last year, López saw his minutes disappear very quickly but believes that he’s made the necessary improvements to keep his place. Speaking to the media on Wednesday, he explained that he’s got a much better grasp on the defensive aspects of the system.
“The coach and my teammates are helping me better understand the defensive concepts that I needed and those are fundamental in today’s football. We already know that Gaizka puts a lot of importance on those concepts for the midfielders. Above all, the defensive concepts that used to hold me back are now much better. I work well with Dani and that’s key. Before it was difficult but not so much anymore. I played with Fran in a double pivot at Rayo. I had some more freedom, but I can have a similar role to the one I had there.”
Although he’s expected to start Friday night against Barcelona, López isn’t taking anything for granted. He pointed out that last year started well but things didn’t stay that way. Still, he’s glad he didn’t leave on loan because staying at Athletic helped him learn important lessons.
“Last year I also started the first game and then I hardly played. I learned a lot personally. Now, more than ever, I go game by game. My personal goal is to get better every day in training. It’s difficult for any player to go without playing, but I was calm. Sometimes you think it would be best to leave, but I decided to stay and I learned things. It was a very important year for me on a personal level to learn how to assimilate in a complicated situation.”
Opening the season against Barcelona is never easy. The Catalans may be without Lionel Messi, but López was quick to point out that they still have many other great players who can impact results. It will be important for the Lions to stay focused and not give Barcelona anything easy.
“It’s going to be a very tough game, but it’s always like that with Barcelona. Although they will be without Messi, who is the best, they always have great players and we can’t relax for a moment. We have to be very focused, that’s fundamental because at any moment they can hurt you with the quality they have. We are at home, with our people, and we want to win. You have to go out to fight and bite and take advantage of the support at San Mamés. We will be playing with one more.”
This season Athletic will be competing for a top-six finish, but the players have refused to say that qualifying for Europe is the goal. “It’s not that we are afraid to set Europe as our goal”, explained López. “We all want that, but the key is to win the game on the weekend and train well at Lezama every day.” Athletic will continue to take it one game at a time and it all starts with hosting the reigning champions.