Tuesday 18th April. By Edward Stratmann.
Speaking ahead of a massive week for Athletic Bilbao, which saw them play four games in the space of less than two weeks against Osasuna, Espanyol, Villarreal and Las Palmas, Oscar De Marcos gave an intriguing insight into what an frustrating, interrupted season he's endured. However, Athletic Bilbao's right-back, Oscar De Marcos - enjoying a solid season despite injury setbacks.

"It has been strange for me but I have been quite good, I have had some injury setbacks but I have recovered quickly. This dressing room helps you recover and now I do not even remember that I have been injured," he recalled.

The Lions' utility, who's capable of fulfilling multiple roles in midfield and defence but has now settled into the right-back slot, has been forced to miss large chunks of action through irritating ankle and adductor injuries. But his manager's unyielding faith in him has been a great source of motivation and positivity for him during his stint on the sidelines.

"This (belief) gives a lot of peace of mind to a player, the mister, as always, has trusted me, even if I haven't been in the best condition. And that gives you confidence," he said on coach Ernesto Valverde.

Indeed, of his 26 appearances this term in all competitions, the fact 23 have been starts, wonderfully demonstrate how highly Valverde rates his charge. Enjoying an injury free run for most of 2017 has allowed De Marcos to produce some excellent showings, and show precisely why the likes of Chelsea, PSG and Manchester United have all recently been interested in acquiring him.

Technically proficient and extremely resistant to opposition pressure, the 27-year-old is a crucial component of his team's attacking and ball retention phases.

The former Alaves youth product keeps things neat and tidy in his passing, with his capacity to hit precise passes in confined spaces and evade pressure being especially notable. Moreover, his agility, pace and close control see him as a real weapon with the ball at his feet and when running directly at his marker in 1v1 battles.

His off the ball movement, in an attacking sense, is of equal importance too, however. Capable of finding space of his own when dropping deep to help his team Athletic Bilbao build from the back, plus shrewdly alternating between underlapping and overlapping fullback runs, De Marcos constantly keeps his opposition on his toes with his strong awareness and anticipation.

Inaki Williams' presence ahead of him on the right, who he shares a fine understanding with, in combination with the supporting movements from his central midfielders, Benat Extebarria and Mikel San Jose, and cover provided by whoever is operating at right centre-back, undoubtedly gives him many options in possession and the freedom he needs to impact offensively.

Fittingly, his prowess on this side of the game saw him register two crucial assists vs Osasuna to start their big week in style. His first was particularly special, which arose following a superb underlapping run into the 18 yard box, and was capped off brilliantly by his wicked cutback that Aritz Aduriz duly latched onto to score.

Upon analysing his defensive skillset, and De Marcos vitally stacks up well here too. The athletic swingman holds his own very competently in isolation scenarios. Meanwhile, in aerial duels his strength, underrated leap and judgement see him as tough customer to overcome. While in battles on the ground, his judgement, ideal body positioning, vigorous pressure and covering speed see him as a formidable obstacle to outfox.

Valverde would be particularly enjoying observing De Marcos hitting such fine form, especially when considering he faces stiff competition from Inigo Lekue for the starting right-back slot. De Marcos has dealt with the pressure coolly, though, going about his work in a customary determined fashion and letting his football do all the talking. "Lekue has long been proving that he is very good and strong competition. We will fight between us and that will suit the team," noted De Marcos.

Due to Athletic's disappointing cup exits, De Marcos insists the club's goal is now to ensure qualification for Europe next season. Having won six of their last nine matches and sitting in sixth on the table, it'll be a captivating tussle to see if the Basque outfit can achieve their set aim.

De Marcos will just be hoping he can remain injury free to enjoy what looks to be an exciting end to the season.