Iker Muniain “The Team Is Ready To Compete”

Iker Muniain Training

Iker Muniain says the team is ready to fight for Europe (AC)

Football returns in just five days. On Sunday Athletic will finally return to action against as the Lions are set to host Atlético Madrid at an empty San Mamés. It’s unfortunate that fans won’t be able to attend the match, but Athletic must overcome the challenge with eleven games left to play. However, there’s another issue on the table. While Athletic will play four games in ten games, other teams will have more time between fixtures.

“The schedules have started to come out and it’s true that there will be little rest with the matches already very compressed,” Iker Muniain said during Tuesday’s press conference. “At the moment, with the matches that have been scheduled, we are handicapped. They haven’t been distributed fairly for everyone.”

Aside from the next four games there are seven more that need to be scheduled. The captain wants to see more fairness in the fixtures throughout the remainder of the season.

“Hopefully everything will be compensated a little more. In the beginning we play four very compressed games while resting less than others with whom we’re going to be fighting until the end. We will start with that disadvantage, but it’s not an excuse. We want to compete and we will try to recover our best as soon as possible to win matches and add points. We hope it will be equal for everyone, but today that’s the only reality. It’s a disadvantage which we will try to make unnoticeable.”

In addition to a tight schedule Athletic will also face a difficult run of games. Atlético Madrid, Eibar, Real Betis, and Barcelona are coming up along with Valencia, Real Madrid, and Sevilla down the road.

Iker Muniain Training

“We don’t have a simple schedule.” (AC)

“It’s also true that we don’t have a simple schedule. We’ll face strong opponents who are also risking things and that must be taken into account. Hopefully we will add three on Sunday and then three the next game, which would bring us closer to the goal.”

The current situation is unlike anything that’s been seen before. Games will be played without fans, coaches will be allowed five substitutions, and match day squads will be increased to 23 players. Athletic trail the top seven by five points and know they will need to win several games to qualify for Europe.

“We haven’t accounted for how many points we need, but we’re aware that we will have to get a large amount. It’s not worth winning one game and then losing the next. We must add three by three as much as possible to be close. We have the objective and the expectation of reaching Europe for what it means in all aspects. We hope to qualify for Europe because it would be good for everyone.”

When the team takes the field on Sunday three months will have passed since the 4-1 win over Real Valladolid days before the season stopped. Muniain admits that the players won’t be at their optimal form and that adapting will be one of the keys to success.

“These three months have been long. This situation of going so many months without competing has never been experienced, but I see the team very prepared. We’re gone from less to more, building the sensations, and we are closer to an optimal level to compete. The difference will be which teams best adapt to all of this. If we adapt quickly we will have more possibilities of winning.”

When asked how close the team is to their best, Muniain answered that there’s no way to tell given the circumstances. What he is sure about is that everyone is eager to play again and prepared to fight for Europe.

Iker Muniain Dani Vivian Training

“If we adapt quickly we will have more possibilities of winning.” (AC)

“I wouldn’t know how to give an exact percentage of how the team is doing. The situation doesn’t allow you to reach 100 percent but it can be very close because the work has been very good, although different from what we normally do. First we were in small groups, but worked well. The other day we did a training match at San Mamés with a very high level and pace. The team is ready to compete.”

After three months of social distancing it could be strange for opposing teams to play football again. Contact is a necessary part of the game and Muniain hopes that everyone will be able to just focus on football when the whistle is blown.

“Right now I would say that when we go out to compete and play games I want to think that all of this will be forgotten and that we’ll play with normality. It’s the right thing to do if football is allowed to return. There’s a lot of security, although it will never be 100 recent, but there are many control measures in place and that’s appreciated. There will be contact among players because that’s normal. If you shy away from it it can cost you points and the game. You have to be mentally focused in that aspect.”

Playing without fans isn’t ideal and could significantly impact Athletic’s performances at San Mamés. For Muniain, it just won’t be the same.

“It will be rare and strange to play a competitive match with the Cathedral empty. We’re accustomed to it vibrating every Sunday with the fans pushing us. The ones that adapt the best will have an advantage.”

Some teams have weighed up the possibility of playing games at training facilities with a few rumors suggesting that Athletic considered holding their fixtures at Lezama. The club has since denied the talk and Muniain made it clear that everyone is excited to play at San Mamés, even if it’s empty.

Iker Muniain Inaki Williams Copa Granada

“Hopefully we will achieve victory for all the fans.” (AC)

“I don’t have much to say because we’re truly privileged to play in the stadium we have. It’s a motivation to step on the field in that precious stadium. Hopefully we will achieve victory for all the fans who are eager but won’t be able to go, for the deceased supporters, and families who have lost loved ones. Hopefully we can bring them victory this weekend.”

Recent reports suggest that by July stadiums could be opened to 30% capacity. Muniain agrees that it would be good for everyone, but says the team can only think about the upcoming matches without looking too far ahead.

“If the health authorities decide that the public can join to cheer on the teams it would be great news, a sign that the evolution is good. There are factors very different from those that have existed until now. Hopefully it won’t cost us because we have to start at a high level and maintain it for eleven games.”

With 33 points at stake, Athletic’s hope of finishing in the top seven of the La Liga table is certainly attainable. The Zurigorri will have to play at a high level and will likely to need to win about seven games to reach their goal. It will be challenging, but the team is confident that they can fight until the very end to give fans something to celebrate after this difficult period of time.

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