‘Athletic have Copa obligation’

Ernesto Valverde rates La Liga as more important for Athletic Bilbao than the Copa del Rey but ‘our history obliges us to continue.’

Athletic have lifted the trophy 23 times – or 24 if the 1902 victory by Bizcaya, a team made up of players from Athletic Club and Bilbao FC is counted – but not since 1984, losing in last year’s final to Barcelona.

“We all know what the Cup has given us and the demand in our club for this tournament,” Valverde said, Marca reports, in advance of the first leg against Villarreal.

“The history we have behind us gives us the obligation to compete and we live with the hope of being able to go through.

“[Villarreal] are a tough opponent because apart from their potential, they are in their best form of the season. They are a serious contender to be in the Champions League.

“We have to play two strong games and not have our down periods because a bad 15 minutes can cost you the tie.”

The game is played on Three Kings Day, an important celebration in Spain in which presents are exchanged, and Valverde was asked what gift he would like to receive.

“I won’t ask for anything in the long-term. Above all, I want to come out of these two hard months with a good taste in my mouth,” he replied.

“The priority is the League, but we approach the Cup hoping to go as far as possible.”