Athletic Club are set to host Real Madrid tomorrow at the San Mames and that meant that manager Ernesto Valverde would speak to the press on Friday. It was a very direct press conference from Txingurri who began by discussing the intensity of the upcoming game and the importance of taking all three points if they want to finish the season in the European zone of the table.
“Matches against Real Madrid are always tough. It will be a very intense match and we have to make a stand on our ground. Coming off of the Derby win gives us morale and confidence, but this will be of enormous difficulty for us. It it an important game because there are three points at stake. If we get them, it would take us higher in the table close to where we want to be. We wouldn’t overtake anyone, but we could cut out some distance. We would also go into the break with good feelings and ready for the end of the season. After this match there will be 10 days to rest and then every weekend is a big test to climb the table.”
Valverde also recognizes that it is an important game for Real Madrid as well. The Whites are competing for the La Liga title and three points would bring them ever closer to lifting that trophy. The manager admitted that the Lions must play their style of football to get a favorable result.
“For Real Madrid it is very important too. They know that we play strong and that they have suffered on this field before. They will come prepared because they know they need more points if they want to win the league. They will come to dominate the game. The Champions League is a goal for them and the draw just came out, but I don’t think that all affect our game. The league is a goal for them as well. This can’t be a game where we exchange blows. We have to take the match to them on our field and make it difficult for them like we did for Real at Anoeta. If we want to take anything positive we have to play an intense match. We must be aware when we have the ball and not get caught too high.”
There was good news in the interview when Valverde announced that Aritz Aduriz and Oscar De Marcos were healthy to play and may even start. However, he did admit that he hasn’t decided on the lineup yet and that Inaki Williams could feature as the striker yet again.
“Aduriz and De Marcos are ready to play in the starting XI, but we will have to wait and see. Inaki could play as a forward or back on the wing. When he has played as the 9 he has had a lot of chances but many haven’t gone in. Playing on the wing is different, it requires more defense. We have to get used to giving opponents different looks. San Jose being suspended is unfortunate. He was in a good moment and playing very strong football. I have already decided who will start in his place. Iturraspe? It could be.”
As the press conference neared its end, Valverde was asked about a recent report that he rejected an offer from Real Madrid before Zinedine Zidane was hired. He only wanted to discuss the upcoming game and told the reporters that he doesn’t pay attention to what they publish. He did not answer the question.
“That is a direct question, I do not know what that has to do with tomorrow’s game. Have I ever rejected Real Madrid like it has been published? You are all free to publish many different things, but what is in the news doesn’t affect me too much. I am thinking about tomorrow’s game and Athletic Club. The work here is really different to work at other teams. The football market is more open in other places, but Athletic’s philosophy is unique.”
In closing, Txingurri praised Yeray who received his first call up to Spain’s U21 team. Valverde said that the young center-back absolutely deserves the call and that he even expected that it would happen.
“It is good news for him. He is a player that has been great for us and it is nice to see his hard work get recognition. With the level he was playing I was expecting the call. When they get calls like this it is good because it endorses the work that they have put in for the team. It doesn’t surprise me at all. Yeray has earned it.”
The Lions will have their hands full on Saturday, but that won’t stop them from playing a hard game. Expect Aritz Aduriz to be back in the starting lineup with Inaki Williams playing on the right wing. With Mikel San Jose suspended, it seems almost certain that Ander Iturraspe will start. Historically, Iturraspe has put in sublime performances against Real Madrid, but there have also been fireworks at times.