Yeray “In These Games You See The Quality Of Each Player”
Yeray missed Athletic’s Copa del Rey match against Intercity earlier this week but is ready to return to the field. After overcoming a slight injury the defender is expected to be back in the starting lineup as the Lions face Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabéu. The 24-year-old admits that being out of the team gives other players the chance to take his place and that he’s excited to have made the trip to Madrid.
“I had a little discomfort in my calf, but the past few days I’ve been comfortable and I’m prepared to play,” Yeray told Alfonso Herrán of AS. “There’s been competition every year since I arrived in the first team. I have been fortunate to play but at any moment another could enter the lineup.”
Looking ahead to the Real Madrid match, Yeray says that it’s always one of the toughest games to play and that the team is motivated to win. After losing 3-0 at the Bernabéu last year, the Lions are determined to get a better result today.
“Playing against Real Madrid, especially at the Bernabéu, is a very nice showcase. Millions of people will see it. In these games you see the quality of each player. What we want to do this season will be reflected in this type of match. They beat us 3-0 last year, all goals from Benzema. We didn’t start badly. We wanted to win and they didn’t create much of anything, but we knew it was their home and they would try to keep all three points. Once they scored the first goal everything was easier for them.”
With Casemiro suspended for the match Fede Valverde is expected to play a key role in the midfield for Zinedine Zidane’s side. “I’ve seen some of Valverde’s games,” admitted Yeray. “He’s very physical and good with the ball. He’s scored a goal and is a young kid. If I could take away one player though, it would probably be Benzema. He’s the one who gives us the most problems. They will have good motivation because they are up there with Barcelona.”
When asked if he watches Sergio Ramos regularly Yeray revealed that he really doesn’t pay much attention to players in his position. The Lezama product then shared that he prefers Raphaël Varane over Ramos, though every player has their own weaknesses.
“I don’t usually look at the players in my position. Everyone has their own style. He’s one of the best in the world but also has weaknesses like everyone else. Nobody is perfect. He makes many mistakes that his teammates cover but that’s not very visible. He’s very good, but I prefer Varane. Yes, I’ve been compared with Puyol many times.”
There’s been talk of Athletic starting the game against Madrid with three center-backs, but Yeray refused to give any information. “I don’t know,” he responded. “If I have to play with two center-backs then I will and if I’m not in the lineup I will encourage my teammates to the fullest.”
Athletic enter Sunday’s game winless in their last two fixtures and are eager to turn things around. “If we won all the matches we would be fighting for the title,” Yeray said firmly. “During the season there will be good games and bad games. We had a very bad start against Betis and against Eibar we couldn’t play, but they are Primera teams. They aren’t bad.”
Yeray and Iñigo Martinez have formed one of the best center-back pairings in Europe which has left Unai Núñez with very few opportunities. It’s never easy to go without playing regularly, though Yeray is confident that Núñez will have more minutes if he continues to work hard.
“It’s complicated to be in a team and not play. He’s my friend. I know him well and he gets along well, never complains, and doesn’t have reproach for anyone. He’s an example of how a player who isn’t on the field should conduct himself. He’s young, but he’s not someone without experience. He has a few years left on his contract and a lot of potential. The minutes will come.”
While Yeray made his return to the team, Oihan Sancet was dropped from the squad. When questioned about the midfielder’s development, Yeray made it clear that fans must have patience with the 19-year-old. Sancet is still improving and must be given the time to settle into the group.
“People have little patience for anything. Either you arrive in an incredible way or you do something wrong one day and you’re no longer good. The kid is learning. He has a lot of quality bu still has to settle and have that mind to be in his current place. He creates a lot around the area, he turns very well, he has speed, strength, dribbling, and can score goals. We see his quality in training. In the games he hasn’t reached his best yet.”
Before the interview was concluded, Yeray was asked about his two battles with testicular cancer. The defender shared that it wasn’t easy to get the news and that he will never forget the entire ordeal.
“When they tell you that you have cancer you are facing the most difficult time of your life. I was 21 years old, but it happened. I have not forgotten because that’s something you remember for your whole life. I continue to thank everyone who supported me, the gesture of my teammates, the fans, and everyone that was involved.”
Yeray has regularly stated that he doesn’t want to be an example because many other people have overcome cancer as well. He believes that being famous shouldn’t make his battle any more special.
“I repeat that I’m not an example of anything. I went through it like millions of other people. Being famous doesn’t make me a reference for anyone. I don’t want that pressure. Luckily, I was able to overcome it quite easily. A better example are the people who try and can’t overcome it, but they still never give up. Those people deserve more credit than I do.”
It’s been nearly 15 years since Athletic last beat Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabéu, but the Lions are confident that they can end that streak on Sunday. Yeray has played a major role in helping Athletic become one of the best defensive teams in all of Europe and the Zurigorri will have to be at their very best to topple Real Madrid.