Mikel Balenziaga “We All Want To See The Athletic That Beat Barcelona And Real Sociedad”
With Yuri Berchiche still sidelined after suffering a dislocated shoulder, Mikel Balenziaga is expected to start at left-back as Athletic host Real Valladolid on Sunday. The 31-year-old spent two years as a starter for the Pucela before returning to San Mamés back in 2013 which will make this a special game. In a recent interview with Radio Nervión, Balenziaga discussed the upcoming match and praised Athletic’s strong start to the year.
“The team has had a very good start to the season by playing the football that we want to show. We know what our strengths are and we want to become stronger in our type of football. The last two games weren’t the best we’ve played, but we are in a good dynamic and we know what we have to do. The team is very strong and solid and we give up few chances. Yes, there are things to improve and that is what we are doing.”
Balenziaga acknowledged that the Lions have struggled to create chances this season, highlighting that conceding the first goal also makes it even more difficult to find the back of the net. Still, he believes that the team is doing a lot of things well, especially Iñaki Williams.
“It’s true that we haven’t created as many chances as we would have liked in the last two games. If you go behind on the scoreboard it’s much more difficult to get forward. We know what we have to improve but we know how strong we are when we have the lead and in defense. Iñaki has shown in recent years that he has the ability to help the team whether it’s pressing, running into space, or scoring goals. He’s an important player for us and he’s doing things very well to help the team.”
Despite losing the last two games, Balenziaga is confident that Athletic have the quality needed for a big season. The Lions put in stunning displays in wins over Barcelona and Real Sociedad earlier in the year and that is what the defender is hoping for on Sunday at San Mamés.
“Honestly, we are in a good position right now. I’m not just talking about the table. I think we have found our strength and the way to face matches. We have to improve in some areas, but we have a good team and we can have a nice year. We all want to see the Athletic on Sunday that beat Barcelona and Real Sociedad. We will do our best to make it happen. We need to be very focused and do things well so that the three points stay here.”
Since Berchiche’s arrival it’s been hard for Balenziaga to see the field. Even though it’s a difficult situation to be in, Balenziaga shared that every player has to know how to handle it and that he’s working hard in training every day to prove himself to the manager.
“Every player wants to play whether it’s the first week or eleven games into the season. We all want to have minutes and play well. There are 25 of us in the squad and only eleven can be on the field. I had five years where I was among those eleven every week and in the last two years it’s been my turn to not have so many minutes. Everyone handles it their own way. I think it’s best to face every day with the goal of training your best and trying to help the team.”
Even though Berchiche’s injury opened the door for Balenziaga to return to the starting lineup, it’s not a good situation. Balenziaga admitted that he would prefer for his teammate to be healthy so that the two could compete against each other every day. An injury is never a good thing for a player or the team.
“When you are on the bench you suffer a lot, rather than playing. When you come in because another player is injured it’s not good for anyone, not for the team or the one who had the injury, in this case Yuri. I want to compete for the position with him and try to have minutes and the best way is for to both be available. When you aren’t playing you have to do everything possible to be at your best, to try to have more minutes, and convince the coach. That’s what I’m doing.”
Turning his attention to Real Valladolid, Balenziaga explained that he grew a lot as a player with the Pucela. He spent his first season playing at right-back but learned much about defending which helped him return to Athletic.
“Practically my whole first year in Valladolid I played on the right side. It helped me to improve defensive aspects and I learned a lot from the coach because he had been a defender as well. He had very clear concepts and I owe a lot to him. You can say that I made myself a footballer at Valladolid.”
Balenziaga continued to watch Athletic closely even though he was a Real Valladolid player. The defender told Radio Nervión that he would have loved the opportunity to work under Marcelo Bielsa but he didn’t make his return under Ernesto Valverde was hired as manager.
“Once Athletic decided that I had to leave I was very focused during those years away. I always matches the Athletic matches, this was during Bielsa and the UEFA final. It was a very nice year, but my reality was in Valladolid. I had to accept it and do things well to be able to return. I would have liked to be with Bielsa for at least one year year. I wasn’t able to do that, but I learned elsewhere.”
Valverde played a big role in helping Balenziaga establish himself at San Mamés. The Lezama product shared that Txingurri gave him the confidence needed to play his best and now he’s just trying to do everything that is asked of him to the best of his ability.
“When I returned, Valverde gave me confidence and continuity. I had many years with many minutes and prominence. He always said my virtues were my mentality and perseverance. Now I’m trying to contribute what is asked of me, what the Mister says, and help the team as much as I can. ”
In closing, Balenziaga wasn’t shy about his love for Real Valladolid. The Pucela played a big part in his development and he would love the opportunity to start in Sunday’s match which will likely be the case. It will be a special game, but also one that Athletic must win to keep pace near the top of the La Liga table.
“I have a lot of love for Real Valladolid. I spent two incredible years there, they tested me great and I enjoyed it a lot. They are having better results away from home so this match won’t be easy. We are bound to win. After two losses the important thing is to add three points to be in the area of the table where we want to be. I would love to start against Valladolid, but we don’t know the lineup. We will have to wait and see.”
Real Valladolid haven’t beaten Athletic at San Mamés since 2003, and never at the new San Mamés. History will mean very little on Sunday with the two clubs separated by just two points in the table and both desperate for a win. The Zurigorri have been dominant at home this season and know that they will have to be at their best once again to take all three points against another strong opponent.