Gaizka Garitano “Taking A Point Here And Keeping A Clean Sheet Isn’t Easy”
Athletic pushed Real Madrid to the brink in Sunday’s draw at the Santiago Bernabéu. Although the Lions had chances to win at the end of the game, it also took some brilliance from Unai Simón to secure a clean sheet. In the end, taking a point in Madrid is a great result and lifted Athletic to 7th in the La Liga table heading into the holiday break.
“The team played well with great collective work,” Gaizka Garitano told reporters after the game. “The important thing is that we ended the game well, creating chances and threatening in the area. To get something here you also have to have some luck. This result has merit because it’s Real Madrid who have great players. Taking a point here and keeping a clean sheet isn’t easy.”
Garitano surprised everyone by fielding three center-backs which made things much more difficult for Real Madrid. When asked about the decision, the Mister explained that he wanted more size and strength to deal with crosses, though the Lions struggled at times with giving the ball away.
“We knew we were going to need tall and strong players because they are strong in the air. It was going to be harder for them to combine to create chances because we are very organized in defense. We were more afraid of the set pieces than open play. All of their chances in the first half came because we gave the ball away too much. We have to improve in that area and we did in the second half so we suffered less.”
Despite the success with three center-backs, Garitano doesn’t foresee using the formation on a regular basis. The team has been strong with the usual 4-2-3-1 but the manager is open to making changes based on the situation.
“We have been playing with four at the back for a year and doing well. This is a plan we sometimes use and I thought it was convenient in this situation because we gained height for set pieces and strength in the midfield. We had to stop their quality. Having a plan B is fine, but I don’t know if we are going to use this every weekend because there are things about it that I don’t like.”
Garitano was full of praise for Iñigo Martinez and Unai Simón after the match. The pair played a key role in holding Real Madrid scoreless and have been integral to the team’s success all season.
“Iñigo is the only international that we have and that says it all. He’s a magnificent player and I’m happy for his commitment and because he’s been at a very good level. We’re very happy with Unai and with Iago (Herrerín) as well. To get something from the Bernabéu your goalkeeper has two make at least three or four saves.”
While Garitano has rarely rotated the squad since taking over as manager, he has no issue trusting other players in the lineup. “There is a lot of quality in the squad,” he explained. “We have three or four key players which we all know have to play, but in other positions we can rely on different players. I trust everyone. I value the group more than the individuals.
In closing, the Mister reflected on the past year during which Athletic have gone from battling relegation to challenging for Europe. Moving forward, Garitano wants to see the team reach another level which includes getting better results on the road.
“The team has improved a lot compared to a year ago when the situation was very bad, but we are ambitious and want to keep improving. We must improve and continue growing. We are working are much as we can and we have to improve away from home. At home we’ve been very good, but this result has merit.”
Athletic’s draw at the Santiago Bernabéu kept the Lions in the race for Europe but another crucial game is on the horizon. Following the holiday break, Athletic will be back in action on 3 January when the team travels to the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán to face Sevilla where three important points will be on the line.