Gaizka Garitano “This Format Isn’t Easy, But We Are Doing Well”
Athletic have had a full schedule over the past few weeks with several difficult matches away from home. On Tuesday the Lions will once again leave Bilbao as they travel to Estadio Heliodoro Rodríguez López to face Tenerife in the fourth round of the Copa del Rey. The winner will advance to the quarterfinals and Athletic manager Gaizka Garitano isn’t taking anything for granted.
“These draws are always away trips so there’s no option to play at San Mamés,” he recognized in Monday’s press conference. “It’s not a good format for us, but I like it. It’s more interesting and gives more opportunities to everyone. Whether we have to play on the road or at home we are prepared. We have in mind what we need to do and what we want to accomplish.”
It’s been nearly ten years since Athletic last played a game against Tenerife, but Garitano isn’t worried about the past. The Mister has analyzed Tenerife’s recent matches and expects another difficult fixture away from home.
“We know Tenerife well. We have followed them and we know their players. They play well and are good on the ball which is what Baraja wants from the team. It’s similar to Elche. Although they aren’t high in the table there is a lot of quality in their squad and we expect a match similar to the one against Elche. The important thing is that you have to adapt to different situations. This format doesn’t benefit us and only the strongest ones are going to advance.”
The Copa del Rey has been full of surprises this season with several La Liga sides having already been eliminated. Garitano made it clear that Tuesday’s match will be challenging and that the Basques will have to be at their best to win and advance.
“There have already been ten teams from the Primera eliminated by teams from the Segunda or Segunda B. Others have had to win in extra time to advance, as we did. It’s difficult for us to go to Tenerife and win easily. The same was true for Barcelona when they went to Ibiza. We expect a game like Elche, a very difficult game. This format isn’t easy, but we are doing well in the Cup and we will try to continue.”
A victory over Tenerife would put Athletic into the final eight and within reach of the final. Being so close to the end makes every game even more important but the Lions refuse to look too far ahead.
“The closer you get to the final rounds the more motivated you become. Of course the team has been motivated from the beginning even against teams from lower levels. We’ve done well and we know this will be a difficult match. Away games against Segunda opponents are very complicated. We know it will be difficult but we trust our way of playing.”
Despite being back in training, Unai Simón and Aritz Aduriz will not be available for the Cup match. Garitano explained that both are working to get back to full fitness while also admitting that some players are tired after playing three games in six days.
“Unai isn’t going to travel. He’s fine, but he doesn’t have his strength back. He’s already training again and that will continue little by little, but he won’t travel. Aduriz is better every day. He is closer to returning and has been more and more normal. He needs continuity and we have to have him available soon. We’ve played a lot recently and some players are more tired than others.”
Garitano will have to find ways to rest a few key players while also fielding a strong team capable of winning on the island. With a big league match against Getafe on the horizon, rotations will be more important than ever. The season has now entered what will likely be the most challenging stretch of the campaign and, as always, Athletic will take it one game at a time.