Ernesto Valverde says 35-year-old Carlos Gurpegui is “first choice” to replace Aymeric Laporte for Athletic Bilbao ahead of Sunday’s game against Granada.
Laporte will miss the rest of the season after damaging his ankle while on France Under-21 duty last week, and Valverde is banking on experience via the stalwart, who has spent his entire professional career at San Mames – as opposed to a younger option – in central defence.
“It’s more or less determined, but there are several alternatives,” he said at a Press conference.
“The first choice is Gurpegui, but there are others such as [Eneko] Boveda, [Mikel San Jose, [Gorka] Elustondo and [Ander] Iturraspe, although the latter would lead to a positional change.
“[On Laporte’s injury], it’s an accident which can happen in training.
“It’s not the first time we’ve played without Laporte, and I have no doubt that the team will respond again.
“He’s in fairly good spirits and his operation went well.
“[The game against Granada] is fundamental in a very tight table as we’re looking with both eyes at Sevilla, Celta [Vigo], Villarreal and also Malaga.
“This is not the time to fail, but instead make these games count.
“Regardless of the Europa League, we’re facing one of the most important weeks of the year as we have two straight home games [in the League] against Granada and Rayo Vallecano.
"Winning those two games wouldn’t assure us European qualification, but it’d definitely be a boost.
“I’ve spoken to the players and they’re aware of what we are playing for in the League, and we can take an important step towards achieving our targets [with these two wins].
“Still, it’ll be difficult against two teams down the bottom of the table.”