Muniain says rivals fear Athletic Bilbao

Athletic Bilbao striker Iker Muniain claims Athletic Bilbao’s recent high-profile performances against Manchester United have inspired La Liga sides to up their game against the Basques.

Marcelo Bielsa’s men beat the Premier League leaders in both legs of their Europa League last 16 tie, but have been beaten by Osasuna and Valencia in their last two Primera Liga encounters. Muniain denies his side have been tired after their European successes, believing the losses were down to the performances of their opponents.

“After beating one of the biggest teams in Europe, both Osasuna and Valencia have had more desire to beat us than normal,” the 19-year-old told Marca. “These two defeats haven’t been down to tiredness because you can see we run like dogs.”

Los Leones face Atletico Madrid at the Vicente Calderon tonight and Muniain remains confident that Athletic can compete for a place in the Champions League next season, despite their recent blip in form.

“The game against Atletico is hugely important as we are playing against a rival and hopefully we can achieve a valuable result,” he added. “If we can win on Wednesday and then on Sunday against Sporting (Gijon) at San Mames we will be back in the fight for the Champions League.”

Bielsa has concerns over the fitness of star striker Fernando Llorente, who missed the defeat to Valencia at the weekend and is still a doubt with a hip injury. Captain Andoni Iraola is also suspended, but Fernando Amorebieta and Gaizka Toquero return from their bans and both are likely to play against Atletico.

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