Gaizka Garitano “Right Now We’re Only Thinking About The League”
Athletic’s nine-game winning streak is weighing heavily, but the Lions are determined to put an end to the poor run tomorrow. Gaizka Garitano’s side will travel to Mendizorrotza to face Alavés, the team’s third straight Basque Derby, where three important points will be on the line. Having fallen all the way to 10th in the table, Athletic need a victory to start climbing and the manager warns that Alavés will be a difficult opponent.
“Alavés are a team that has improved over the season,” said Garitano during Saturday’s press conference. “They have very good organization, it’s difficult to create chances against them, and many times their two strikers make the difference. They’ve both scored nine goals. Lucas and Joselu are very, very good strikers who can score a goal at any moment.”
While Athletic may boast one of the best defenses in La Liga, Alavés have the quality in attack to create problems. “They have tall players which makes their set pieces lethal,” Garitano pointed out. “When you lose the ball they have bullets in transition with Edgar, Aleix Vidal, Burke, and Lucas. They have fast players and when you lose they ball that can attack in three passes.”
Athletic’s incredible run in the Copa del Rey has helped mask recent poor results in La Liga. However, Garitano made it clear that the team is only focused on Sunday’s match and not looking too far ahead to the upcoming semifinal second leg against Granada.
“We know that we’re facing an important opponent. Points are becoming increasingly more important and we have prepared well this week. We really want to go there and play a good game. Right now we’re only thinking about the league. We have been preparing for the game in Vitoria all week. When it comes time to focus on the Cup we will do that, but right now we’re only focused on the league.”
Despite the winless streak, Garitano says that the team is full of confidence. Doing so well in the Cup has kept the team excited and Athletic hope to turn that into the first league victory in over two months.
“Our mood is high as always, even when the game ended the other day. We are Athletic. We’re playing with those from home, we’re facing the challenge of a Cup semifinal ahead, and we’re also facing the challenge of winning again after a week without doing so. Our mood is high, very high, and it can’t be otherwise.”
Athletic had the entire week to prepare for Sunday’s match, something that hasn’t happened since December. The rest has been good for the players and could be the spark needed to finally secure three points.
“It’s been good to have a normal to prepare well for the game. We were able to train, distribute the work, and rest which was needed. We will be somewhat more rested. We haven’t had many muscle injuries during the year and that speaks well of our preparation, that the players take care of themselves and prepare well. It’s not easy to play at a high level of intensity every three days as we’ve been doing.”
Even in the midst of the team’s poor run of form, president Aitor Elizegi has publicly backed Garitano. When asked about the support the manager was thankful and mentioned that it’s something that gives the team strength.
“I want to thank the president for the support and, above all, the confidence that he’s shown in us. In the end, coaches live on winning matches and lately in the Cup we have won many important ones, but in the league we haven’t been able to win and it’s my responsibility to turn the situation around. We want to reverse the streak so that we can win more games from here until the end of the season.”
The manager was also asked about the recent statements from Ibai Gómez who shared that he accepted an offer to join Espanyol in January but that Garitano rejected the move. “I don’t know what he said, but he’s one more important player in the squad,” answered Garitano. “He is being used like everyone else. He’s available to the coach and I’m happy with him.”
Athletic are desperate to put an end to the winless streak and failing to do so would likely see the Zurigorri fall into the bottom half of the table. Alavés will be a strong opponent and anything can happen in a Basque Derby. However, if Athletic are able to play their game and take advantage of chances the Lions could return to Bilbao with all three points in hand.