Asier Villalibre “The Most Important Thing Right Now Is The Game Against Eibar”

Asier Villalibre figures to take on a more important role this season (AC)

The moment has come for Asier Villalibre to cement his place in the Athletic squad. Following the retirement of Aritz Aduriz, Villalibre must now take on a more important role at San Mamés and hopes to help the team by scoring goals this year. The 22-year-old is often compared to Aduriz, but is only focused on enjoying his own career.

“I train like any other player,” Villalibre said during Tuesday’s press conference. “I’m confident and my goal is to improve. I’m 22 years old and I have many years left to continue improving. I love to run into space and feel comfortable fighting with defenders. I’m not looking far into the future, I only think about the next game and training well. The coach’s words serve as an incentive and I take them well. There’s a need for us to score may goals to win games and the coach wants us to improve and have better results on the field.”

Over the past few years Athletic have struggled to score goal. Villalibre doesn’t think there’s a serious issue, but rather says the team just needs to be better at finishing chances. “We know that the competition is brutal, but I don’t think there’s a lack of scorers,” he said. “It’s true that there has been a lack of effectiveness, but we’re working on it.”

Despite regularly trying to distance himself with Aduriz comparisons, Villalibre surprisingly took the number 20 shirt this season. He understands the responsibility, but is also proud to wear the mythical shirt.

“Wearing Aduriz’s 20 is a great honor for me.” (AC)

“Last year I wore 25 and was happy with it. I was going to continue with it but since we have three goalkeepers I had to change. There was 20, 2, and 19 available. I did think it was a lot of pressure, but I made up my mind and decided on 20. In the end I just thought like that boy or girl on the street who wants to wear 20 because it’s Aduriz’s number. I think the same way and wearing Aduriz’s 20 is a great honor for me.”

Playing regular minutes is still difficult for Villalibre with Raúl García leading the attack. Overtaking the 34-year-old presents a challenge, but for now Villalibre is happy to learn from García.

“I see Raúl as an incredible player. He is amazing competition for me and helps me improve. I have no fault with him, in fact he’s a beautiful person. I’m fortunate to train with him every day. I don’t see it negatively, but positively. I’m lucky to train and improve with him every day.”

Athletic kicked off the new season with a disappointing 2-0 loss to Granada. Criticism immediately followed, though Villalibre assured the players are optimistic about the year ahead. Whatever comes, getting fans back in the stands will be the biggest victory.

“The team is united. We know that the fans are the most important thing and that without the fans we are nobody. Athletic is nothing without fans. The greatest triumph this year won’t be qualifying for Europe or winning the Cup, but the first match at San Mamés in front of our people. We will all enjoy it together.”

“We aren’t thinking about the next games, let’s go for the three points.” (AC)

Athletic travel to Ipurua in just a few days for the second game of the season. Eibar have caused problems for the Lions in recent years, but a win will be the only acceptable result.

“Eibar is a physically strong team. There will be many crosses into the box so we will have to be stronger and faster. I scored a goal there last time, but that doesn’t mean that I will score again. The most important thing right now is the game against Eibar. We aren’t thinking about the next games. Let’s go for the three points.”

Having two weeks to prepare for Eibar match gives Athletic an advantage going into the Basque Derby. Gaizka Garitano’s side need a win to start climbing the table and players like Asier Villalibre could be important against such a physical opponent. Athletic’s last two visits to Ipurua ended in draws.

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