Gaizka Garitano “It’s A Vital Game For Us”
Over twenty years have passed since Athletic last won a league game on the road against Espanyol. The Lions will have an opportunity to end that streak tomorrow and aren’t taking the fixture lightly. Espanyol may be sitting at the bottom of the table, but the Catalans have played impressive football as of late and are desperate for points.
“It’s a vital game for us,” Gaizka Garitano told reporters during Friday’s press conference. “We have full confidence in going to win there even if it’s been more difficult to win away from home. I didn’t know about the streak and I’m not interested in it because every game is different. I don’t take it as a reference or when we have gone matches without losing.”
Garitano has seen enough of Espanyol under new manager Abelardo to know that they will be a dangerous opponent. The Catalans have played well as of late and will be eager to win their first league game at home this weekend.
“Espanyol’s situation makes them more dangerous, especially after seeing their performances against Barcelona and Villarreal. They have also made good signings that will increase their level. Every match in this league is difficult and even more so when you are in need.”
The Mister went on to explain the changes that he’s seen at Espanyol and highlighted the team’s physicality in the middle of the pitch. Despite the gap in points, Athletic can’t afford to relax at RCDE Stadium.
“They are playing with more organization and a high press. Espanyol are a very physical team with quality players like Melendo and Darder in the midfield. Then there’s the signing of Raúl de Tomás who will give them quality and goals. They have been looking for a better path all year and have found it.”
Saturday’s match will be the third game in six days for Athletic. This is the time of the year where fatigue sets in and Garitano explained that he will wait as long as possible to give players time to recover properly before choosing the lineup.
“We will have to see who are doing better physically and we have to talk to the doctors and trainers. I know the players who are going and I trust everyone. We will come together and make the game plan. Those who are in the best shape to help the team win will play. We have strong players who have recovered well.”
After leaving training early yesterday with thigh discomfort Yuri Berchiche was expected to be unavailable against Espanyol. However, he was included in the squad though it’s no guarantee that he will play. “Yuri did very little in training today so we will wait and see” explained Garitano. The manager has called up 19 players and will make a decision on the left-back before kickoff.
Winning the penalty shootout against Elche on Wednesday was an exciting moment for Athletic and Garitano admitted that the victory boosted morale. “Advancing in the Cup has given us confidence and joy. We must try to recover from the effort and minutes we played and have a great performance. We have prepared well for this match through video and tactics.”
Having now reached 50 games as manager of Athletic, Garitano reflected on his time with the club and the joy he’s living at San Mamés. “I’m doing what I love and I enjoy my profession,” he said grinning. “I get along very well with the players and I’m happy with what I do because it’s a privilege to dedicate yourself what you enjoy and to coach Athletic. The longer I do well the more time I will be at the club.”
A victory over Espanyol could lift Athletic as high as 5th in the table but it won’t be an easy game. The Lions have just one win away from home this season and have only managed draws in their last four league games. Winning in Catalonia could ignite a climb up the table, but dropping points could also see Athletic fall further away from Europe.