Gaizka Garitano “This Is A Derby And We Will Go With Everything”
Eliminating Barcelona from the Copa del Rey was a historic moment for Athletic, but the team can’t dwell on the victory. Tomorrow the Lions will travel to Anoeta for a massive Basque Derby against Real Sociedad with the opportunity to pick up three points and put an end to a seven-game winless streak in La Liga. For manager Gaizka Garitano, this fixture is just as important as the Cup match two days ago.
“We always respect our opponent,” Garitano said in Saturday’s press conference. “La Real are a great team who play great football. We will try to impose our game and give them more difficulties than they usually have. We know that we are playing every three days and that’s a good sign because it means we’re doing well. There are no excuses, no complaints. This is a Derby and we will go with everything, with the utmost optimism. We will try to win there, I can assure you.”
Athletic and Real Sociedad are two very different teams. While the Lions have built their success through a strong defensive system, La Real play a dangerous attacking style of football.
“They are a very good team and so are we, each with their own style. We are both in the semifinals of the Cup and that is very difficult to achieve. In the league we are three points away from them, we’re both having a good season. It will be complicated for us, but surely they will also find a difficult match.”
A victory at Anoeta would move Athletic level on points with La Real and give the Zurigorri the tiebreaker on the season if needed. Garitano has made it clear that his side will be taking Sunday’s match very seriously. The Basque Derby is a unique rivalry and the atmosphere will be incredible.
“If we win we would go ahead of them with the advantage. The two of us will try to win and the best team will take the points. There will be a good atmosphere between the fans and sportsmanship. On the field the rivalry will be intense, but let this also be a party. The one who doesn’t win will congratulate the one that does. Whoever wins will have time to enjoy it and the other will have disappointment. We both are coming from a week that we’ve enjoyed a lot.”
Garitano admits that it’s a challenge for the team to fully turn their attention to the league, but there are no excuses. The players have logged many minutes over the past month and have to be ready for yet another crucial fixture.
“It’s hard to get focused on the league again after the high of beating Barcelona. We have to recharge the batteries physically and mentally, and that is everyone’s job. For us, the Derby is a vital game. Competing every three days is a mental strain and we have to be plugged in again.”
The team’s busy schedule has brought fatigue and a few injuries as well. Some players will be unavailable for Sunday’s trip to Anoeta but, apart from those, Garitano plans on fielding the strongest possible lineup against Real Sociedad.
“We will try to not make too many changes because we have to dump our forces into both competitions. Now we are focused on the Derby and it’s the only game that we have in our heads. We’ve been playing every three days and the players are fatigued, others are injured, and based on that we have made our game plan. It’s not because we are prioritizing one competition over the other, but because some players are unavailable. Yuri is injured, he has groin strain, and we have doubts with several others.”
Athletic currently sit three points off of the top seven, though winning the Copa del Rey may be the club’s best chance of qualifying for Europe. “We are aware of the commitment we’ve made to the Cup,” said Garitano. “By competing in the Cup we add a lot of risk to the league. We see the prize but we haven’t won in the league in a long time and that is also a priority. We will try to move forward in both competitions. We always focus on the next game and now it’s the Derby.”
Tomorrow’s match at Anoeta will be the first of three straight Basque Derbies that Athletic will play in the league. The Zurigorri are facing a grueling stretch of games, including the Cup semifinals against Granada, yet Athletic aren’t looking past Real Sociedad. This fixture has been marked on the calendar since the day the schedules were released.