BARCELONA - ATHLETIC | VALVERDE
"It's not the first time we've played Barça over two legs"
The Athletic manager was in bullish mood after being pitted against Barcelona again in the Copa del Rey.
Ernesto Valverde spoke to the press ahead of his side's match against Barcelona this weekend, after the two were draw to face each other in the Copa del Rey quarter-finals, which will be the fourth and fifth meetings between the teams this season.
At least you won't have to play Barcelona in the final this season...
Luckily not! We are getting some tough draws; we've got the hardest opponent, but that serves us right for talking [after the Villarreal tie Valverde said he hoped they wouldn't be drawn together]. It's a challenge for us and it's not the first time this season we've played them over two legs with the second at their stadium. We got a good result in that one and we'll try to do the same again, even though it's harder this time. It's the draw we got, and I'm sure they weren't happy about being drawn against us either.
You wanted to avoid Barça because of the physical wear and tear...
Of course. We've got to play them on Sunday and when you're up against Barça the physical demands are extremely high. They take a lot out of you because of their pressure and they keep you permanently on your toes defensively. We have the experience of what we did in the summer and that required so much effort that we had a few problems afterwards. But on the plus side they are a huge opponent and people will be really up for it. It's one of those challenges that you want but you always want it to come later on. Everybody knows what the cup means in Bilbao, it's an extra motivational push.
How will you manage this glut of games against Barcelona?
We have the experience of August to draw on; the first two games were excellent and then the third in the league we weren't so good, although it was a very tight game. We are without Aduriz this weekend. They have Suárez banned for the first [cup] match. They are all coming at once, it's a lot to take on.
Will the draw lead to you changing your line up for the league match?
In principle no, but I'll have to have another look at it. There are three points in play and our intention is to go there to get something out of the game. When you play against the same team so close together, getting something from one game gives you a bit of momentum for the next one.
Aduriz is out and Kike Sola is leaving. Will Williams play as a number nine of might Muniain come into the equation?
Yes, we have possibilities in that regard. Iñaki did that against Villarreal, and then we have Sabin, Viguera... as we know that at Camp Nou it's hard to battle for possession, we work on the basis that they are going to see more of the ball and we have to get it off them.
Without Aduriz will you play a different way?
Aduriz's characteristics have an influence on our playing style and the other players we have in that position are different. Sabin and Williams look for spaces more. Sabin plays well leading the line and he may be handy for us in this match.
Your statistics in the league against Barça aren't great...
The statistic from our last visit is that we drew and we won a title. Every team has bad statistics against Barça, above all in this era, because they are in a golden phase. We'll concentrate on the Supercup result, not the league one.
Will you need to make changes with so many games?
We'll have to use the whole team for this tie because we have a lot of games in quick succession. The key is in managing the Wednesday-Sunday fixtures, because you run more risk of picking up serious injuries. And we have Getafe on the Saturday after the away leg. We are already stretched from before so we won't be taking any risks with strains and so on.
How important is Williams' renewal to you?
The same as it is to any Athletic member or fan, and to the club, who are trying to reach an agreement but it's taking longer than we expected. The club is on it, because it is very hard to find strikers. Talent and goals come in two ways; you've either got it already or you buy it, which is what other teams do. The club is making a great effort so that he stays.