Iñigo Lekue “We Want To Recover That Feeling From The Start Of The Season”
As Athletic prepare for Sunday’s match against Real Valladolid there are several questions surrounding the team. The Lions lost their last two games before the international break, have a few injuries to deal with, and know that only a win at San Mamés will be acceptable. Gaizka Garitano could look to change up the lineup and Iñigo Lekue explained in Friday’s press conference that he’s ready for a chance.
“I’m 100 percent available. I’ve been training with the group for two months and I’ve played several friendlies and some minutes in the league. I’m fully prepared. Physically, I’m fine and have no discomfort. I am looking forward to playing. I want to help the team and would like to have more minutes, like every player. I’m not going to lie, I want more minutes. What we all want is to play.”
With Yuri Berchiche still recovering from a dislocated shoulder Lekue volunteered to play at left-backs. The 26-year-old has featured in that position before, although it’s much more likely that Mikel Balenziaga will be the one selected by Garitano on Sunday.
“It’s my turn to help in other facets, to try to push for my position. The day that I play I will try to seize the opportunity. I can play on the left side. In fact, I played more on the left than the right during my first year with Valverde. I am good there but there have many players and Mikel is also in that position. He’s been doing thing very well for many years and continues to do so.”
Before the losses to Valencia and Celta Vigo, Athletic had won every game at home and drawn each match on the road. Lekue believes that was a good run for the Basques but also recognizes that now the team has to bounce back from poor performances. Luckily, the international break has given Garitano added time to prepare.
“I don’t think it’s a bad dynamic to always win at home and draw on the road. There may be stumbling blocks, week that you don’t add three points at home, but we are convinced by our football. We are trying to improve away from home but for right now we are focused on Valladolid. We’ve had two defeats in a row but we are used to what it means to win and to lose. Sometimes the break comes at a good time, like now when we’ve stumbled twice, but we have continued to work.”
Despite the defeats, the squad hasn’t lost confidence. Athletic still believe in their defensive style of football and recognize that they must start creating more chances in front of goal to win more games.
“There hasn’t been a bad mood or poor training because of the two losses. We know that we aren’t conceding goals and so far that has been a strength of this team. It’s hard for opponents to create chances against us, but we also need to score goals to win games. We have to face the next game with maximum focus to move forward. We are strong at home, we always have been, and we want to continue like this.”
Lekue agreed with recent comments from Yeray that Athletic’s goal is to qualify for Europe. However, the Lezama product also made it clear that the only focus right now is on winning the next game and continuing to improve.
“It’s nice to set goals and think about returning to Europe. We can think about, but right now the goal is to overcome these two defeats. It’s a nice goal to set. After the last two games the team wants to recover that feeling we had at the start of the season. There’s no doubt, we are convinced by what we are doing and how we work day by day.”
The La Liga table is as close as ever and every point matters. A win on Sunday could see Athletic jump several places in the standings, but anything less has the potential for the Lions to drop as well. With two weeks to prepare for the match, there will be no excuses for a bad performance. A win will be the only acceptable outcome at San Mamés.