Ernesto Valverde has affirmed Athletic Bilbao’s intention to defend fourth spot in La Liga, but made clear that it won’t be easy.
The Basques end 2013 having edged into fourth with a four-point lead over the chasing pack, headed by city rivals Real Sociedad.
It is a spot their Coach says the team is keen to keep hold of for the remainder of the season, even if they are in it ahead of his own expectations set in the summer.
“I am always optimistic about a challenge like this and I believed we would be up there, but maybe not in the fight this much so soon,” considered the 49-year-old on Sunday evening.
“The team is confident and has done what it has done with belief in their ability.
“We will defend the Champions League position, but 66 points were needed last year to secure it and we will need to improve our total from last year by more than 50 per cent.
“It is possible [to finish in fourth], but to discuss it now, it is an objective that is still far away. To qualify for this, the team must have consistency throughout the season, and up until Christmas, perfect.”
Valverde was talking after Athletic’s 2-1 home win over Rayo Vallecano in Week 17.
“In the first half the scoreline was close, but I am satisfied. We were motivated because it was the last game of the year and we wanted to end with a good feeling. We are going to rest, allow people to enjoy themselves and then come back stronger.
“The Basque derby on January 5? We are fourth and they are fifth and it is a game that we all love to play. I wish that every year Athletic and Real were playing well.”