Gaizka Garitano “Everyone Knows This Is An Important Match”
Gaizka Garitano has done the unthinkable. He took over an Athletic team that was drowning in the relegation zone in December and are now on the verge of qualifying for Europe. The Lions will host Alavés on Saturday where a win could essentially seal a top 7 finish, but it won’t be easy. Garitano told reporters on Friday that he is well aware of how dangerous Alavés can be.
“It will take a lot to win. It’s hard for any team to win in La Liga. Alavés are having a magnificent season, well above the forecasts and deservedly so. They have two very good forwards in Jony and Inui and strong strikers like Bastón, Calleri, and Guidetti. They are a physical team, very strong, and do well on set-pieces. They have many strengths and only a few weaknesses because it’s a team that defends well and defends together. That’s why they have been near the top of the table all year. Alavés will make things difficult for us for sure. We will try to play a good match and, if we win, it will be another step forward.”
Playing at San Mamés will certainly give Athletic an advantage. The Zurigorri have scored 6 goals in their last two home games, but have also conceded four times. Garitano hopes to see his team continue their impressive run while also fixing the mistakes at the back.
“The atmosphere is going to be magnificent. Everyone knows this is an important match to stay in the fight for Europe. We have to take the initiative at home. We hope to be an offensive Athletic and create chances. We have to try to continue the rhythm we’ve had at home where we have played very well. The results have been very good and we’ve been able to score goals. We’ve scored six goals in our last two games at home, but we also have to be better in defense. Rayo scored two goals against us and so did Levante. We have to defend better than in our last two home games.”
Athletic will be without Yeray who suffered a muscle injury during Wednesday’s win over Leganés. Because of the absence, Garitano has called up Bilbao Athletic’s Dani Vivian who he believes will become an important player for the first team in the future.
“Yeray is injured. We only have two center-backs and we believe that Vivian will be good for us. Vivian is a young defender but he is very good. He usually trains with us. Areso and Sancet have also trained with us today. We work with the Bilbao Athletic players because they are the present and the future. Today Vivian is called, someone else could be called next.”
Injuries have been an issue for Athletic for a few weeks now. Garitano revealed that Dani García, Ibai Gómez, and Ander Capa are all ahead of schedule with their recoveries and should be able to play again this season. Still, he’s very proud of the way other players have stepped up recently and has complete faith in everyone in the squad.
“Iturraspe has an infection and wasn’t able to train. Dani García’s injury isn’t as serious as we thought. If everything goes well we will see him, Ibai, and Ander on the field again before the end of the season. We are using a lot of players and everyone is responding very well. I’m glad that everyone can participate, they deserve it. The truth is that I am delighted with everyone’s contribution. The players are participating a lot and I’m happy about it. They all deserve it.”
Despite having several injuries in the team, Markel Susaeta hasn’t been named to the starting lineup. Garitano explained that he’s happy with Susaeta’s performances, but that he also looks to choose the best lineup for each game and specific opponent.
“I always try to choose the players that are best for each game and I am happy with everyone. I’m happy with Susaeta, with the entire squad, but there isn’t a place for everyone in the starting lineup. I can only put eleven players on the field and I try to choose those who are the best fit.”
Saturday’s match is a must-win game for Athletic. Taking all three points could set the Lions up to clinch a top 7 finish in their next game against Real Valladolid, but Garitano is still being cautious. “It’s not a definitive match, but it is very important”, he said. “Alavés is a direct rival and this game will have all the attractions and emotions that you want from a football match. We have been adding a lot of points and now we’re not only saved but we also have options for European positions. It’s a possibility that we have to go for.” A few months ago Europe looked impossible, now Athletic control their own destiny.