Gaizka Garitano Emphasizes Organization In First Game As Athletic Club Manager
The Gaizka Garitano era of Athletic Club got off to an exciting start on Thursday night as the Lions defeated Huesca 4-0 in the second leg of the Copa del Rey. With the new manager at the helm it was vitally important to get a convincing victory in the first game, but due to the circumstances of the fixture it would be dangerous to draw too many conclusions from the match.
Not only did Athletic already have a 4-0 lead from the first leg, Garitano had only led one training session at Lezama before the match. It wasn’t enough time to really install any of his ideas or system so it’s important to be careful about analyzing the victory too closely. That being said, there were some notable differences that even the coach and players brought up after the game.
It was clear that the team was looking to be more direct in attack. The team passed the ball with purpose and weren’t simply looking to keep possession. They wanted to do something with the ball and that led to creating more chances in front of goal. Playing with more directness also helped protect the defense from counter attacking which was a big issue under Eduardo Berizzo.
There were other visible differences such as overlapping fullbacks and spacing around the box, but the biggest emphasis by far was organization. From the opening minute to the final whistle Athletic were more organized than they have been the entire season. The team kept their shape, moved as a unit, and were very rarely out of position. Players seemed to understand their individual responsibilities and were playing in a clearly defined shape and system whether attacking or in defense.
Despite the circumstances of the match, the defense looked very good. The Basques did well not to give up too much space to attackers and closed down quickly to prevent dangerous moments. After the game winger Iñigo Córdoba told reporters that Garitano’s desire was for each player to defend his own area as opposed to man-marking which was done under Berizzo. The change had an obvious effect on the defensive performance as the formation tended to shift into a 4-4-2 when Athletic didn’t have the ball and back to a 4-3-3 when in possession.
When Garitano first took over the team he said that he would focus on the basics of football. His coaching debut at Athletic seemed to confirm that. Organization can be the difference between winning and losing and Thursday’s match against Huesca showed that the Zurigorri are capable of playing good football. Whether or not it will continue is another question, but for the first game, even if against a weakened and defeated opponent, Garitano has given the players and the fans hope.