Ernesto Valverde previewed Saturday's LaLiga EA Sports clash with Rayo Vallecano at San Mames on Saturday (16:15 CET)
Athletic Club head coach Ernesto Valverde reiterated the importance of heading into the busy festive period on a good foot as Los Leones get set to take on a strong Rayo Vallecano side in Bilbao.
The Madrid-based side are one of LaLiga's most in-form teams on the road, having only lost once away from Vallecas so far in 2023/24.
"I think Rayo are doing very well. They're one of the best away teams and have taken a total of 12 points," Valverde said at his pre-match press conference on Friday afternoon. "They've only lost to Real Betis and conceded just three goals.
"They press high, they're aggressive on the ball and their attacking players are quick and decisive. They're having a great away season.
"For us it's important because of what it means to be back at San Mamés and because of the lead up into the second half of the campaign."
The gaffer urged his players to maintain their good home form, telling them to expect a Rayo Vallecano team who "are not coming to mess about".
He said: "Rayo will go toe-to-toe with us. They have the players for that and I don't think they'll change their approach. Last season's match was an entertaining one and we'll see what happens tomorrow.
"They've got a lot of firepower up front, but we have to be strong at San Mames."
Ernesto also spoke about Nico Williams' contract extension until 2027, saying it sends a "beneficial message" to the footballers in Athletic's youth system.
"It's something we've been expecting for a while," he said. "It's important for us, for the stability of the club, knowing that young players like Nico can be here for a long time.
"It's good for the players, for us and for the club's general outlook. This benefits us in many ways, for what he brings us on the pitch and for the message it conveys to the players working at Lezama."