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Luis Enrique: ‘We will be at a high level against Athletic Bilbao’

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Luis Enrique: ‘We will be at a high level against Athletic Bilbao’

The Barça coach is pleasantly surprised with the players’ good physical state after the holidays

The first Barça match of 2017 has arrived. Despite of what surely will be a tough month in the schedule, the Blaugranas are ready for the clash against Athletic Bilbao and the first team members have already landed in Basques lands.

Luis Enrique held a presser ahead of the first leg match saying that "it will be a tough tie against a side with a great tradition in the Copa del Rey, Athletic Club. We face a Club that we know well. The tie will be a difficult one and first we need to go to their ground knowing how dangerous Athletic are. They will put pressure on us and it will be an interesting tie to watch.”

The Asturian coach continued: “Playing against Athletic is always difficult and it is no different because it is the first game of the year. The pressure will be high both on and off the pitch and I expect us to play well from what I have seen of my players since the start of 2017. I am sure we will be at a high level during the knockout round due to how we ended 2016 and the condition the players have returned in.”

He explained what he expects the gameplan will be from the Basque side: “I don't think Athletic will change the way they defend. They are very brave and they are a team that try and overwhelm you with their pressing. They aren't scared of leaving spaces in behind. In the league they caused us problems and I expect the Athletic that turns up for big occasions. It will be difficult.”

Luis Enrique also remarked the good physical shape his players have shown at the start of the year: “We have been able to enjoy some well-earned holidays and I am pleasantly surprised with the players since their return. They have come back in better shape than when they left. Everyone has been able to enjoy a few days rest and I am happy with the shape the players have come back in and the response in training sessions and their performance levels. All my players are ready to compete.”

Asked about the rumors of his renewal and possible replacements such as current Athletic Bilbao coach, Ernesto Valverde, Luis Enrique said that “it’s logical people are linking Valverde with Barça, for better or for worse there are always rumors about the coaches. Ernesto Valverde is the coach I have faced the most in my coaching career. With Celta we inaugurate together the new San Mamés. He’s one of the coaches with the highest level of the Spanish football, I like his philosophy and his character. The way how he conveys his game. You just need to look at the teams he has trained. He’s a top coach.”

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