Ernesto Valverde issued a rallying cry to his Athletic Bilbao players after Sunday’s 3-1 win against Real Betis as “six points isn’t too steep a deficit”.
Sabin Merino’s brace, sandwiched by a goal from Mikel Rico, fired Athletic to a fifth straight victory and within just six points of fourth-placed Villarreal in La Liga after the Yellow Submarine’s defeat to Sevilla, leaving Valverde to talk up his side’s chances of a Champions League finish.
“Six points isn’t too steep a deficit,” the Coach said after the game.
“Our first objective is to get into Europe, but we’re always looking up the table.
“We’re in a good run of form, we’re very excited and we’re pleased to be where we are.
“We knew the importance of these three points before the game and approached it well, so the team deserve tremendous credit.
“Sabin played well. I had doubts about who to play, but he always creates chances.
“Picking the team is difficult, but it’s a very good problem because the performance of everyone is extraordinary at the moment.
“The [San Mames] turf has suffered all season, but we hope to recover it in the spring.
“[On their Europa League last-16 second leg], Valencia have struggled a bit, but they have a good team and players who can react.
“It’s still vital [despite their 1-0 lead from the first leg], and it’ll be a tough, tough game.”