Gaizka Garitano “We Will Try To Break Our Streak And End The Year Well”
Athletic are gearing up for their final game of 2019 and it may just be the most difficult one of the entire year. The Lions will travel to the Santiago Bernabéu on Sunday, where they haven’t won in nearly 15 years, with hopes of stunning Real Madrid. This fixture will be a massive challenge for Gaizka Garitano’s side, but the manager ensures the team is ready.
“Many teams haven’t won there for years because Real Madrid only lose at home once or twice a year. They are in their best moment of the season. They dominated El Clásico. They have one of the best squads in the world and it’s not easy for anyone to play them because they have the best players. We will try to break our streak. Confidence and enthusiasm is at the highest level and we want a good end to the year. Winning there would be the icing on the cake.”
As always, one of Athletic’s keys to winning will be playing solid defense. The Basques have been one of the best defensive sides in all of Europe this season, though Garitano also recognizes that they will have to score goals as well to take all three points.
“We are going with the intention of defending well, but also needing to attack because they also create chances. We will have options to score and must take advantage. Last year we had chances in key moments of the game, but we didn’t score and they took advantage of the ones they had. Winning without scoring is very complicated. We have to defend strong and use the spaces that we have in attack.”
When asked how he motivates the players for a match of this magnitude, Garitano admitted that it’s not needed. The team is full of eagerness and confidence with belief that they can get a positive result.
“When you play at the Bernabéu against Real Madrid it’s not necessary to motivate the team. Our team doesn’t lost any motivation because every game is important in this league. I don’t care about the opponent. I’m more concerned with technical and tactical issues than with motivation. You have to look at the few weaknesses they have.”
During El Clásico earlier in the week there were several questionable calls by the referee. “We trust the referees and their professionalism,” said Garitano when asked about the officiating. “They do their best work. We hope that nobody gives us anything and that they don’t take anything away either.”
The Mister was also asked if Athletic could start the game with three center-backs which worked so well against Real Betis recently, though Garitano didn’t want to give anything away. “We prepare for the matches and develop the plan during the week,” he answered simple.
Looking back on the past year, Garitano is pleased with Athletic’s success. The Lions have greatly improved since the Mister took over last December and the team hopes to end 2019 with a big win over Real Madrid.
“Our balance has been very good. It’s been a very good year. You just have to see the points we have earned which, until a week ago, were Champions League points. Tomorrow is the last game of the year and perhaps it’s the most difficult of the season. We will try to end the year well and then think about what’s coming next.”
Despite the success this year, Garitano also admitted that there have been some adjustments in recent matches. “We have made changes and are building more from the back,” said the manager. “We press higher, before it wasn’t so consistent, and now we have a bigger commitment to pressing.”
On Friday, Athletic were draw against fellow Bizkaia club Sestao River which will be a special game for both teams. However, Garitano admitted that he’s only focused on winning the match and advancing.
“Anyone who would’ve been draw against us would have been fine. This tournament has more difficulty playing just a single game on the road against a team from a lower level. If we want to more forward we have to face any type of team.”
The Copa del Rey match against Sestao will take place over the second weekend of January and Athletic could have two key players back in the team by then. “Muniain and Aduriz are in the process of recovering, but they lack time,” revealed Garitano. “Aduriz is already working with us. We hope that by the beginning of January or a little latter they can join the group.”
There may be plenty of excitement for the upcoming Cup game, but Athletic can’t think about that right now. The Zurigorri are fully focused on Sunday’s trip to Madrid where they believe they can end the winless streak at the Santiago Bernabéu and return to Bilbao with all three points.