Gaizka Garitano “There’s A Margin Between Being Competitive And Winning”
Athletic’s hopes of ending a 22 year winless streak at RCDE Stadium were dashed on Saturday. After taking an early 1-0 lead the Lions conceded an equalizer in the second half and were unable to find a winner before the final whistle. Following Wednesday’s penalty shootout with Elche, Gaizka Garitano says that fatigue played a big role in the draw against Elche.
“We played well for most of the game. We were better for the first 65 minutes, but then we ran out of pace and freshness. By then we should have won the game. That didn’t happen because we didn’t make good decisions around the area. Espanyol scored the only chance they had in 90 minutes. We feel that we have lost four points in these last two games.”
While Athletic were by far the better side in the first half, Espanyol took control after the break. “We didn’t take a step back in the second half,” Garitano defended. “In the last minutes there was fatigue and we couldn’t control the game. They made changes and we suffered, that’s the truth. We can’t be happy with the result.”
For the third straight league game away from home Garitano fielded a lineup with three center-backs. The manager explained that the formation gives the team more versatility in attack but that scoring goals is still a big issue.
“It’s something that gives us a lot offensively and gives us other options in the area. It’s true that we need more quality in attack because we have to score goals. We cannot waste so many final balls which is what kept the game alive. We need to execute better. We opted for short or elaborate plays from corner kicks because we weren’t better than Espanyol in the air. They’re one of the best in the league in that area.”
A major factor in Athletic’s struggles in front of goal has been the poor form of Iñaki Williams. “He’s our franchise player,” said Garitano. “I’m happy with his work but forwards live off of goals. Maximum performances must be demanded from franchise players. It’s true that we came from playing a demand midweek game and it’s normal for there to be fatigue. It was logical that he needed to be replaced.”
On the other hand, Asier Villalibre put in an exceptional showing and scored his first league goal. “I’m very happy with his performance,” Garitano said proudly. “He’s growing more and more. He played a magnificent match with the ball and without it.” Villalibre has been making his case for more minutes over the past few weeks.
Athletic will face a major test next weekend when they host Getafe at San Mamés, but the Basques can’t look that far ahead. Another midweek Copa del Rey fixture awaits which will see Athletic travel to Tenerife on Tuesday. “Today we lacked gas and speed so we will see what we will do in the Cup. There’s a margin between being competitive and winning that we must improve. I trust the whole squad and we will try to encourage players to prepare for the Cup.”
Fatigue has become a significant issue for Athletic and it will be up to Garitano to find a way to rotate the team this week to keep key players fresh. Saturday’s draw in Catalonia was a major disappointment and puts the Zurigorri under more pressure for better results in the fixtures ahead.