Gaizka Garitano “Sometimes A Problem Can Become An Advantage”
It’s been a few days since Athletic’s big 3-0 win over Espanyol and spirits are high, but the team will face yet another massive challenge this weekend. On Sunday, the Lions will travel to Villarreal who sit just two points ahead of the Basques and have been one of La Liga’s most dangerous attacks. A victory would lift Athletic back into the top seven, though this will be one of the most difficult games of the season.
“In recent games they have won 5-1 and 4-1,” Garitano pointed out in Saturday’s press conference. Other than Barcelona and Real Madrid, they are the team with the most offensive potential in the Primera. They have many quality players in attack who can score goals. Against a team that usually scores so many goals, you have to try to score in order to win the game.
Garitano recognizes that Athletic’s defense will have to be at their best in order to get a positive result. However, the Basques will also have to find ways to score to topple the Yellow Submarine.
“They have scored 17 goals in 5 home games. If they didn’t have defensive gaps they would be leading the table. They are very good. This game will depend on whether we can play well enough to create chances to score there.”
The manager admitted that the team was in need of Wednesday’s win over Espanyol. It’s helped raise the confidence of the players, although Garitano made it clear that it will mean very little if Athletic can’t continue getting good results.
“You always want to win as soon as possible when you are in a bad streak. It gave us relief because it was a deserved victory but we must have the motivation to continue winning and not feel that the weight has been removed. It seems like when you take the weight off everything is good again, but it’s worthless if you don’t win again.”
It’s easy to relax after a big victory, but that can’t happen with Athletic. “We can’t have tranquility or conformity, it must be the opposite,” Garitano said clearly. “We have need to win every game because in this league you live in need of wins. It doesn’t matter what you did previously, whether you won or not, you have to play a good game in the next one.”
Reflecting on the Espanyol match, Garitano was asked about the decision to play Raúl García at striker which freed up Iker Muniain to create in the midfield. The Mister explained that Athletic has three key players in attack who have the versatility to operate in different positions depending on what the team needs.
“Raúl, Williams, and Iker are usually players who play their best through the middle, but one can move to a false wing position depending on the opponent and the context of the match. They are three very important players in key positions and they have to sacrifice. Their versatility is a tactical richness and we have to take advantage according to each match.”
Despite the success against Espanyol, Garitano refused to say whether or not Muniain will play in the midfield against Villarreal. “It’s possible, depending on the opponent, but it’s not the same playing against Villarreal on the road and Espanyol at home,” answered the manager. “To have those three players on the field sometimes forces you to modify some things and sometimes a problem can become an advantage.”
As if playing three games in one week wasn’t challenging enough, Garitano will also have to deal with the fact that both Beñat and Unai López have been ruled out for Sunday’s game with injuries. Mikel San José, Mikel Vesga, and Oihan Sancet will all be options to start in the midfield alongside Dani García.
“Previously we played three games in five days and we had to change players. Now we have three games in eight days but we are more or less in the same situation. Unai left the games three days ago in the 60th minute. He hasn’t trained but we will see how he is today. Some have discomfort so we will take those who are 100%. Playing three games in one week is demanding, but the rest are well.”
Gaizka Larrazabal also spoke to the media ahead of the game and took the opportunity to defend his friend Iñigo Córdoba who was subject to whistles during the Espanyol match. “I already commented on him the other day and said what I thought,” Garitano answered when asked about the situation. “Right now we are focused on Villarreal. He’s a young player with a big future. I’m happy with him.”
Getting a positive result against Villarreal will be difficult, but doing so would put Athletic in a great position heading into the final game before the international break. If the Basques are serious about challenging for Europe, these are the matches that can make the difference in the table at the end of the season. It certainly won’t be easy, but Athletic are confident that they can sink the Yellow Submarine in hostile waters.