Unai López “I Have To Work So That The Coach Continues To Count On Me”
Unai López has enjoyed an important role in the Athletic team so far this season and is starting to cement his place in the lineup. Unfortunately, the Lions suffered their first loss of the campaign last weekend, a 1-0 defeat to Valencia at home. López recently spoke with Radio Popular and explained that the team expected a difficult match and won’t use fatigue as an excuse for the poor performance.
“We aren’t used to it”, López said about losing. “We had a very good and one day is had to end but unfortunately it was against Valencia. We knew it was going to be a difficult game and that they were a strong team. Fatigue is no excuse because we are prepared to take on those three straight games.”
Valencia’s goal was actually reviewed by VAR which ruled that it was onside, however, after the game was over more images came out showing that the player was actually in an offside position. When asked about it, López didn’t want to get into the issue but did say that he believes having so many reviews is taking the emotion out of football.
“I suppose that with so many cameras it can’t be the wrong call. We don’t have to start doubting. It makes the referee’s job easier. I don’t know if we should take it away or not, but it does turn football into something different. Emotion and errors are a part of football. VAR is creating another sport, a sport without emotion.”
After last weekends loss, Athletic are eager to win their first game away from home. The Basques will travel to Celta Vigo on Sunday and the midfielder shared that the team is solely focused on taking all three points. The Galicians have struggled out of the gate but Athletic know they can be a dangerous opponent.
“We really want to go in and take all three points. It will be a difficult game, they have added good players. They have players that we have to watch out for, but we have some too so there’s no fear. Celta may not have all the points they expected but we are aware of the team they have. If we are all plugged in we will be in a good position to take three points.”
Following the loss to Valencia, fans demanded improvement from Athletic. López admitted that it’s normal and believes that the team is taking steps to get better in several areas. Most importantly, the Basques have to start winning games on the road.
“It’s normal for fans to say that there are things to improve. That’s why we train. Surely we will improve in many areas. I don’t think anyone lacks ambition to win away from home, we are working for it. We have to try to be the same as we are at San Mamés. The fans that will come will help us. They are always there and we just have to thank them. There’s no talk about Celta’s situation in our locker room. Our concern is doing our job well. If we do that, we will have a good game and could get the three points.”
Reflecting on his own place in the team, the Lezama product explained that last year was really difficult. He began the season as a starter but quickly got to a point where he barely saw the field. Things seem to be much better now, though he’s not taking anything for granted.
“Last year was hard for me. My goal was to stay and be important, but now I have to work hard to stay in this position. The coach decides who plays, the changes, and those decisions are respected. I’ve come from a hard year and must have peace of mind. There are players who handle it well. I feel great physically and there is no problem with that.”
Because of the way last year unfolded, López knows that he must continue improving to stay in the lineup. The 23-year-old knows that the manager wants from him and he hopes to score his first goal very soon.
“I don’t consider myself a starter or anything. I have to work so that the coach continues to count on me and so I can help the team. We know what he likes, balance between defense and attack and being direct. I really want to score a goal soon. It may not seem like it, but I like scoring goals. I haven’t celebrated one yet but if I score I will have to.”
López has played most of his minutes beside Dani García and the two have started to form a dynamic pairing in the midfield. While García handles most of the defensive duties, López is given more freedom to create. López also has a good relationship with Beñat who he believes still has a lot of offer the team.
“Dani and I are comfortable playing together. It’s not that I’ve been given a more creative role, I just feel more comfortable doing one thing and he’s more comfortable doing other things. We help each other. Beñat and I have a good friendship. He’s a great player and he’s shown it for many years. Many want him to retire but the truth is he’s 32, he’s not that old. He’s been and is a key player in the team. He can still contribute a lot and he will contribute a lot.”
In closing, López was full of praise for starlet Oihan Sancet. The 19-year-old has been very impressive over the past two years and is close to becoming a permanent part of the first team.
“Oihan is very young but he’s started very well at Bilbao Athletic. It happens little by little so you have to be calm and he is quite calm. He’s going to succeed. Raúl García? There isn’t much that needs to be said. We know what he is as a player and what he gives us. We can all learn from him. He is a brutal professional and he shows it every weekend.”
A win on Sunday would put Athletic in a good position heading into the international break. The Basques have won five of their last six trips to Balaídos and taking all three points could see Athletic climb several spots in the La Liga table. Unai López is expected to start once again and every player will need to be at their best to conquer Celta Vigo.