Yeray “We’ve Had Too Many Draws In A Row”
Athletic have been one of Europe’s strongest defensive sides over the past year and Yeray has been a big part of that success. Having formed a special partnership with Iñigo Martinez, the pairing has brought stability and strength to the back line. Yeray has had a remarkable season to this point, playing heavy minutes, and will be in the lineup once again when Athletic host Getafe at San Mamés on Sunday.
“It’s been a nice season,” Yeray told Robert Basic during an interview with El Correo. “We aren’t up to where we want to be in the table but we’re close. If we had chained a few victories instead of so many draws we would be practically in the Champions League places. The Cup is exciting, especially for how it’s gone so far and now preparing for Barcelona. We can play good football, create opportunities, and do well.”
The Lions have earned five straight draws in league play and are eager to pick up three points against Getafe. That being said, Yeray admitted that it’s been difficult for any team to win games in La Liga this season.
“We know that we’re on the right track. The league is very tight this year and any team can win against anyone else. Barcelona have lost matches, Madrid have lost matches, and Atlético and Sevilla have also. The teams that are always at the top are dropping points and that has helped us to be closer to what we want. It’s good for us.”
Looking ahead to Sunday’s match, the defender highlighted Getafe’s style of football as one that has gotten the most out of the squad. The Azulones are willing to challenge for every loose ball and play physically throughout the full 90 minutes.
“They have a very clear system and ideas. They play with strong forwards that don’t give the ball away. As a team they go with everything on each play and fight for every ball. It gives them equality and they want to have a thousand set pieces. They are a strong team, but we can hurt them and we will. Each team has their own style and way of playing. Everyone knows what works well for them. Getafe are doing well and also year they qualified for Europe and were almost in the Champions League. Right now they are fourth and having a good season.”
Yeray has said multiple times this season that Athletic have what it takes to challenge for Champions League qualification. When asked if that’s still the case the defender didn’t change his opinion. “Of course, obviously,” he answered quickly. “If we beat Getafe we will cut the distance. I see the team strong and eager and it’s true that it’s difficult to qualify for Europe but we believe that we can do it.”
Athletic have had a very busy schedule over the past month and fatigue has impacted the team. Yeray admitted that much has been demanded of the squad but says the team is fully prepared for the clash with Getafe.
“There’s been a lot of football. Playing 120 minutes in Tenerife with one less player was tough, but also nice. The strength and grit of the team was seen and now comes Getafe who are a strong rival. They’ve won almost every match and that’s why they are high in the table. We will play at San Mamés and look forward to beating them. We’ve had too many draws in a row.”
Turning his attention to the Copa del Rey, Yeray acknowledged that his bad pass against Tenerife led to Iago Herrerín’s red card. The defender knows his mistake could have resulted in the team being eliminated and says he felt guilt for Unai Núñez having to be substituted so early in the game.
“I made the first mistake but I can’t dwell on it. At no time did I see a Tenerife player. Because of my mistake others were made and I felt guilty. Even more than Iago, I felt sorry for Unai because he had to come off after just three minutes. That’s not good for anyone and I apologized to him during halftime. We are teammates and I admitted my mistake and apologized.”
As far as the Copa del Rey is concerned, Athletic are taking the competition very seriously. “We’ve had a bad taste in our mouths for the last few years like with what happened against Formentera,” continued Yeray. “This year we said that it will be special. The format changed and we know that we only have to win one game to advance. Now we have a difficult opponent but we still have many hopes of winning the Cup.”
That difficult opponent is none other than Barcelona who will come to San Mamés on Thursday for the quarterfinal round. Athletic must win to advance in the Cup and Yeray made it clear that the Basques have no fear, especially when playing at home.
“We’ve already played Barcelona and the most important factor is that the game will be at San Mamés. We’ve had that luck and we know the atmosphere is going to explode. The fans will cheer us on and we know we can do it. Barcelona are one of the best teams in the world, but we are aware of our strengths and what we can do. I would rather eliminate Barcelona now than face them in the final. We can beat any team in the world at San Mamés.”
Yeray had to adjust to a new system in January as Gaizka Garitano introduced a formation with three center-backs. Depending on the opponent, Athletic have used the traditional 4-2-3-1 or a 3-5-2 which has brought relative success and new ways of creating chances in front of goal.
“They are different,” Yeray said about the two formations. “It’s harder to defend with four, especially against opponents with two forwards, but I’m very comfortable. It’s also true that I’m comfortable in a defense with five. I’ve had more freedom with the ball and to take it forward which I enjoy.”
Yeray’s incredible pairing with Iñigo Martinez hasn’t been the same with three center-backs on the field. In that situation, Unai Núñez plays in between the two though the trio have worked well together. When asked about his partnership with Martinez, Yeray explained that they both have a good understanding of what the other is thinking or going to do.
“I’m comfortable with him, very at ease. We work well together and what one does is completed by the other and vice versa. We understand each other very well. Even playing with three defenders we have all done well, the goals have come from silly mistakes. We have a lot of confidence in the teammate next to us and that is seen on the field. You see the organization, communication, and that opponents don’t get many chances.”
On the field, Yeray is one of the most composed defenders in football. “Everyone tells me that I give the feeling of being calm and never being nervous,” he shared. “It’s not just playing football, I’m like this with any circumstance in life. I’m a calm person and I don’t have nerves. I’m happy that way and I’m doing pretty well.”
Much of Yeray’s outlook on football and life was shaped and affected during his two battles against testicular cancer. The 25-year-old sees playing professional football as a gift that must be cherished because things can always change very quickly.
“This, football, is a bonus. It’s a luxury for us to come and train here, earn the money that we earn, and have a practically settled life. I’ve achieved my dream of playing for Athletic. I don’t have fear, but respect. I have respect for the word, for the disease. Many can talk about it but if you haven’t gone through it then you can’t see if with the same eyes that I saw it.”
Over the summer Yeray signed a new contract with Athletic which runs through 2026 and contains a €70 million release clause. At the time, clubs like Atlético Madrid were interested in signing the Lezama product but Yeray explained that he had no desire to play anywhere else. “I was clear that I wanted to be here and I will always be here. I’m happy, very happy, and I’m delighted with my teammates.” This weekend Yeray and his teammate will be hoping to defeat Getafe and pick up another vital three points.