Gaizka Garitano “Our Situation In The League Allows Us To Fight In The Cup As Well”
Gaizka Garitano was in a serious mood heading into Tuesday’s Copa del Rey match against Intercity. While the manager firmly stated that Athletic were the better team and would be expected to win the game, he also acknowledged that it would be a difficult challenge. In the end, Athletic secured a 3-0 victory and booked their place in the next round of the tournament.
“In these matches when you are superior you have the obligation to win and advance, but these are dangerous games,” Garitano told reporters after the match. “We had already seen Alavés eliminated and how Granada needed extra time to advance. With these being single games you have to treat them with the utmost seriousness. If you don’t, it can get complicated. We scored early and advanced, which was the goal.”
Athletic scored a goal in the opening minute of the game which essentially decided the outcome. However, Garitano also pointed out that going ahead so quickly also gave the team false confidence that made things more difficult.
“Scoring so soon gave us peace of mind, but maybe too much. From the first goal we didn’t find the rhythm we wanted. In the second half they dropped physically and the difference in the level was noticeable in the rhythm. We were able to play with more pleasure, with chances and possession.”
The success in La Liga has given Athletic the confidence to compete for a 25th Copa del Rey title this season. Garitano shared that winning Tuesday’s match was important to begin the tournament in a positive manner and that the Lions understand the weight of doing well in the Cup.
“We wanted to close the year alive in this competition. Now we must wait for the draw. Our situation in the league allows us to fight in the Cup as well. It’s not like last year. We can continue like this because I know that the fans and the team are very excited. This is an appetizing competition for us and we want to go as far as possible. This tournament is very popular in Bilbao and good results have been achieved historically. We are going to have to go to fields of lower level teams and suffer, but it will be more exciting. I like it a lot.”
Several key players were rested in the win over Intercity and Garitano was pleased with the way that others stepped up. Treating the opponent with respect was a key to victory and the manager highlighted the fact that Athletic didn’t concede any scoring chances throughout the 90 minutes.
“Aside from Iñigo Martínez and Raúl García, the rest of the team were players who aren’t usually in the lineup and they did very well. Beñat and Vesga had not played for a long time and they were serious. In these games it’s about not relaxing and not giving away chances. In that aspect, the team is always focused and intense.”
Asier Villalibre started the match at striker while Kenan Kodro and Iñaki Williams also minutes in the second half. “The strikers live off of goals and when they score they seem to improve,” said Garitano. “I wanted them all to play but Raúl (García) didn’t have many minutes because he couldn’t play another full 90 minutes.”
Beñat made his return to the field after missing nearly two months with an ankle injury and played very well. Garitano admitted that having the veteran midfielder back in the team will give Athletic a boost while also admitting that Yeray could miss the weekend’s match against Real Madrid with a muscle issue.
“We need the quality of Beñat and for that to happen he must catch pace after the injury. He will be available for the next game. Today he played 90 minutes without any issues. Yeray and Capa didn’t travel today because of injuries. Yeray’s ailment is in a bad areas and his availability is in the air. Capa will be out because of suspension.”
Just days after playing Intercity, Athletic will travel to face Real Madrid in what will be one of the most difficult games of the season. “Let’s see if we can finish the year well,” said the Mister looking ahead to the league clash. “We have earned many points and victories, but we haven’t beaten a big team away from home. That must end. We need a win of that prestige and we will see if we can ring the bell at the Bernabéu.”
Athletic are winless in their last two league games but a victory over Real Madrid would be massive. For now, the Zurigorri sit 7th in the La Liga table and are just three points off of 4th place. The win over Intercity could give the team importance confidence but the trip to the Santiago Bernabéu will be a completely different fixture altogether.