Unai López “We’re Looking Forward To Getting Those Three Points”
Last weekend’s loss to Osasuna was a hard defeat to swallow for Athletic players. With Iker Muniain and Dani García both suspended Unai López was expected to play a key role but was also forced to miss the match after picking up a thigh injury. Having now recovered, the midfielder is eager to help the team secure an important victory against Alavés on Sunday.
“I’m fine, I’ve recovered,” López said during Friday’s press conference. “I’ve been training with the group all week and I’m perfectly ready for this match. I’m calm about my situation. I don’t like not playing, but I’m working to have more minutes. The rest is in Gaizka’s hands and I can’t do anything else but work hard.”
After beginning the season as a regular starter, López has lost his prominence due to Gaizka Garitano changing formations. The 24-year-old admits it’s been more difficult to get into the lineup, but says the manager must make the best decisions for the team.
“It’s true that I played more when there were four defenders. With five I only played in Tenerife and that lasted one or two minutes because of the red card. I don’t know what will happen, but it’s been better for me when we play with four defenders. We have very good players in defense and Gaizka is the one who decides.”
When asked where he thinks he fits best, López reiterated that he prefers to play as an attacking midfielder. That being said, he’s also confident that he has done well in a more defensive role when used in a pivot role.
“I’ve always said that I feel very comfortable in midfield, especially when I can play with Iker (Muniain). We understand each other well and I’m comfortable there, but I think I’ve done a good job defensively as well. I try to do whatever the Mister asks of me.”
Looking forward to Sunday’s match, López recognizes that beating Alavés at Mendizorrotza will be challenging. Athletic will have to be strong defensively, but scoring goals remains the biggest issue for the Lions.
“They play together well and have fast players in attack. We have to play our game, work hard, and play together as a team. We know what it’s like to play in Vitoria, but that pressure doesn’t have to hurt us. We know that they are a tough team at home, but we have prepared well for the game. We’re looking forward to getting those three points that are important to us.”
Athletic have fared well in Vitoria over the years, losing just one in their last six trips. However, this season the Zurigorri have managed just one league win away from home which is concerning.
“We know that today it’s complicated to play away from home and more so if it’s a Derby, but the team is doing well. We’re mentally strong and we will go for the three points. In the league we haven’t had good results. We are going to Vitoria to try to break the streak. The problems have been results, not our football, but we need to overcome this barrier. If we don’t score goals we can’t win but we’ve played good games.”
To make matters worse, Athletic have gone nine straight league games without a victory. Over the past few months Garitano’s side have fallen to tenth in the table and are in desperate need of a win.
“We’re aware that we have gone many games without winning, but the team has played well and we’ve shown that we want to win. Mentally we are very strong and we will go for the three points. No league game is ever easy, let alone a Derby away from home. We don’t have to analyze it too much.”
Apart from the league Athletic have had a very successful run in the Copa del Rey. After beating Granada 1-0 in the semifinal first leg the Lions have one foot in the final and López admits that winning the Cup is the biggest priority now.
“This year, at this point, we are giving it a lot of importance, but we must also win in the league. It’s better to win before the second leg than go into it with a bad run of results. We all have moments of weakness, but this team has never been weak. We’re mentally strong and show it every day.”
While fans are dreaming of Cup glory, Athletic refuse to look past the second leg trip to Granada. Taking the season one game at a time has been very important, though López maintains that the team can’t afford to put all their faith in the Copa del Rey.
“Talking about La Gabarra is something happening more outside the locker room than inside it. We have to go to Granada to win a game that will be very complicated. It’s important that we’re in the Cup, if not, our league situation would be more worrying. We have a game now in which it’s necessary to take the points. The European places have moved away from us a little, but there are days left and we will not give up.”
Whether or not Unai López makes the starting lineup this weekend remains to be seen. His involvement will depend heavily on Garitano’s choice of formation, but getting three key players back into the team after missing out against Granada will give Athletic a significant boost going into a match where a victory will be the only acceptable result.