Unai López “It’s A Vital Game For Us”
Unai López has taken a significant step forward since the restart. Over the last seven games the 24-year-old has solidified his place in Gaizka Garitano’s team and is finally starting to live up to the potential he showed while coming through Lezama. López is excited to be playing important minutes, but he’s not taking anything for granted.
“I’m counting on the confidence of the coach and I’m trying to take advantage of it,” López said during an interview with Radio Popular. “I don’t feel like an undisputed starter at all. I’m happy to be helping the team and it’s good to be noticed. It’s always nice to score a goal as well. Hopefully I’ll get another one soon.”
Despite his impressive performances, López hasn’t played a full 90 minutes. “It’s true that I usually come off in the second half but I’m fine physically,” he ensured. “In my opinion it’s not because I’m tired.” Mikel Vesga is often brought on for López in an attempt to strengthen the midfield late in games.
López isn’t the only one playing great football at the moment. The entire team is in great form at the moment, but the Lions still trail Real Sociedad by three points for the last European spot in the table.
“I saw the La Real match against Levante, although I don’t usually see every game because I’m not watching football for 24 hours. They are fighting for Europe like us. They have a three point advantage, but a more complicated schedule. Valencia and Granada shouldn’t be neglected either.”
At last four teams are currently battling for seventh place, but that doesn’t matter to López. In his opinion, Athletic will qualify for Europe if the team does well in their remaining four games.
“Everything is coming much quicker, but the team is doing well. We’re only focused on ourselves. If we do things well we’ll have the chance to qualify for Europe. I’m not worried about how others are doing. I’m convinced that we have the key. I wish I knew how many points we will need. We will try to win them all, although it will be difficult.”
Athletic will host Sevilla on Thursday night at San Mamés where another important three points will be at stake. “Sevilla will come for everything and mathematically they don’t have a place guaranteed in the Champions League,” López warned.
The Lions will go into the match fresh off of Sunday’s 1-0 loss to Real Madrid. The defeat was mired in controversy with Real Madrid being given a penalty and a similar foul on Raúl García not even being reviewed. Although the players were frustrated, López promised that they’ve already moved on.
“We shouldn’t talk about the referees anymore. Sometimes they’re right and sometimes they aren’t, like everyone else. You have to get used to it and be very careful in the penalty area. We’ve all seen the images, but we must focus on Thursday’s game. It’s a vital game for us and we must focus all of our energy on Sevilla.”
Unfortunately, Athletic will be without center-back Yeray who suffered a calf injury in the loss to Real Madrid. “It’s a shame,” said López. “We’ve lost an important player who is already recovering well and thinking about next season. We know that we have three defenders who are three animals.” Unai Núñez will take Yeray’s place in the lineup with the later ruled out for the rest of the season.
While López has been at the top of his game Iñaki Williams has yet to score a goal since the season returned. “He’s been quiet and forwards live off of scoring goals, but he gives us a lot in attack and defense,” López explained. “Goals will come.”
Before the interview was over López was asked about possibly deputizing as an emergency goalkeeper after Lucas Ocampos had to do so for Sevilla last night. “I don’t think I would be the most appropriate, I think Villalibre likes it,” he answered with a laugh. Unai López would rather think about scoring goal and taking all three points on Thursday at San Mamés.