Gaizka Garitano “We’re Still In A Delicate Situation And Can’t Relax”
Athletic have yet to lose a league game under manager Gaizka Garitano, taking 11 points from just five matches. The Lions faced their biggest test so far on Sunday when they hosted Sevilla at the San Mamés just three days after falling to them 3-1 in the first leg of the Copa del Rey. It was quite a different match this time around as Athletic secured a 2-0 win and Garitano told reporters afterwards that scoring the first goal was the key to the victory.
“I didn’t think the previous game against Sevilla was bad. They are a great team and they were just more effective. Today was a good game and we did well. Against an opponent of this quality it’s important to score the first goal. They did last time and we did today. It was the key and we were at home defending that lead very well. We are still in a very delicate situation. We’ve improved, but it’s still bad and we can’t relax. There’s not going to be any relaxation. We are delighted with the fans. We have to always go together, whatever happens. This Club is different and we all have to add together, those inside and outside.”
It took a full team performance to take the three points and Athletic couldn’t continue their high pressure for the entire game. The victory was important and Garitano wanted to make sure everyone understands the value of beating a strong team like Sevilla in this way.
“We were whole and played a great team game. This team exerted a lot of energy. Against these teams you can’t press for a full 90 minutes and in the end you’re going to be tired. That’s why it’s important to score first. Due to the magnitude of our opponent we must give value to this win because Sevilla have lost very few times in three competitions. The game against Girona we played very well and also in Vigo. This match has been very good especially considering the magnitude of who we playing against.”
Iñaki Williams had to lead the attack with Aritz Aduriz and Raúl García both out injured and it was quite a special night for him. After going 770 days without scoring a league goal at the San Mamés Williams bagged a brace and Garitano highlighted his need for space to play his best football. The manager believes he can start contributing even more moving forward.
“Without Aduriz or Raúl there could have been more problems in attack, but we exploited their weaknesses at the back with great passes from Iñigo, Muni, and others. Willi [Iñaki Williams] is very fast and needs space. He’s a sprinter and he needs that space to play his best, that’s why he scores more goals away from home because he’s given that space. A striker thrives on goals and he has confidence. The game against Vigo gave him some air. I value the work he does in that position and removing the burden at the San Mamés will be good for him and the team.”
New signing Ibai Gómez also made his debut when he came on in the second half. Garitano believes that he offers something different and will help the team improve and get positive results.
“Ibai is a different player than what we have. Sometimes the team needs that pause with the ball. He will give us a lot. As soon as he came on he gave two or three good crosses. Passes from the outside, his quality, that pause with the ball and his versatility will help us.”
Athletic must now turn their attention back to the Copa del Rey in what will be their third straight game against Sevilla. The Lions must overcome a 3-1 deficit at the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán to advance and Garitano admitted that he will have to rotate the lineup. That doesn’t mean Athletic are giving up, they plan to win and move on in the tournament.
“There were eight changes in the lineup from the Cup game and we’re going to have to make changes again, but we don’t think it’s over. This win gives us oxygen to play another key play against Villarreal. We are going to make a lot of changes again, with the idea of winning. Playing every three days we have to change people, they just emptied their energy and in three days other people have to play.”
As expected, the postgame press conference ended with questions about the possible signing of Fernando Llorente. Garitano refused to discuss players who aren’t on the team, but did say that he is open to welcoming anyone who will make the team better and improve the squad.
“I won’t answer, no response. If it’s to improve the team I want to have the best players possible. I won’t close the door to strengthening the team is someone comes that will help us improve. In January, every coach wants any player to come who can help the team. I don’t usually talk about players from other teams. It’s a day to enjoy and to rest. I’m not patting attention to these things.”
There’s no denying the improvement that Athletic has made under the leadership of Garitano. It’s taken the Basques just five games to earn as many points as they did in 14 games under Eduardo Berizzo and they are now three points clear of the relegation zone and just four points away from the last European qualification spot in the La Liga table. Next up will be a road game against Villarreal on Sunday and the opportunity to move even higher up the standings.