Gaizka Garitano “The Point Is More Than Deserved”
Athletic faced one of the toughest games of the season on Friday night as the Lions traveled to Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán for a match against Sevilla. After taking the lead early in the first half, Athletic surrendered an own goal after the break which eventually saw the game end in a 1-1 draw. Manager Gaizka Garitano was pleased with the team’s performance despite taking just a single point back home to Bilbao.
“We were better in the first half and pressed well, but then we suffered a little,” the Mister explained to reporters after the match. “At the same time, Sevilla didn’t generate many chances because we defended the wide areas and crosses well. Because of the opponent we faced the point is more than deserved.”
Garitano went on to share that Sevilla complicated things by making adjustments during halftime. It was difficult for Athletic to have any control but the Basques were able to keep their hosts at bay with excellent defending.
“They made changes after the break and it was difficult to press them the way we did in the first half. In the second half we couldn’t maintain the same level or intensity. It was difficult to get the ball out of our half or put a couple of passes together, although we did a great job defensively. Our goalkeeper only had to intervene a few times.”
Athletic have had to travel for their last two games but can be pleased with the draws against Real Madrid and Sevilla. “I’m happy,” remarked Garitano. “We have drawn at the Bernabéu and in Seville. We are more than a competitive team and we show our face in every game. I’m very proud of the team. The players were organized in defense and pressed high. We made it a very complicated match for Sevilla.”
The Zurigorri have now reached the midway point in the season and are on pace for 58 points which, in most seasons, has been enough to qualify for Europe. Reflecting on the first 19 games, Garitano says he’s happy with the team and what has been accomplished.
“We have 29 points which, for me, is a lot considering all the difficulties we have had. Without making any signings and with a team that gives everything, that presses, and competes in every match we must be pleased. We have earned these 29 points. We would like to add more points away from home and start adding three by three.”
Interestingly, Garitano once again fielded a lineup with three center-backs which changed Athletic’s system. The same was done against Real Madrid, though the Mister claims that it won’t be a regular occurrence.
“It may be useful, but we have played very well playing with four defenders. In games where we can take more of the initiative and play in the opposite side of the field it becomes easier with four. Using three defenders is an alternative against better teams. In the future we will continue playing with four because that is what best suits the squad we have, especially when we recover key players.”
Along with altering the formation, Kenan Kodro made his second straight start and has the confidence of the manager. “Kodro is doing very good work and today he was key,” said Garitano. “Before he wasn’t having many chances and now, with so many absences, both he and Villalibre are having minutes and contributing.”
When asked if players like Kodro, Asier Villalibre, or Mikel Vesga could leave on loan this month, Garitano made their situations very clear. “None of those who are playing will leave this month,” he said firmly. “On top of that, we aren’t a team that will have reinforcements so we will not part with players that are contributing. Ganea needs to play but the rest will stay.”
Athletic currently sit 7th in the La Liga table and will now begin preparing for next weekend’s Copa del Rey trip to Sestao River. Garitano will have the opportunity to rest several key players before the Basques host Celta Vigo at San Mamés on 19 January where another three points will be on the line.