Gaizka Garitano “We Need To Be More United In This Important Week”
Athletic are facing the most important week of the season and nothing can be taken lightly. Along with playing the Cup semifinal second leg on Thursday night, the Basques will host Villarreal at San Mamés tomorrow with a chance to finally put an end to what is now a ten-game winless streak in La Liga. Manager Gaizka Garitano thinks the team has been better than recent results suggest, but admitted in Saturday’s press conference that improvements must be made.
“If you’ve seen the Athletic matches, whether statistics or watching the games, most have gone in the same direction. The team is comfortable on the field, but we aren’t able to win and it’s no accident. We are missing some things, but we also hope that if we improve some things and continue with the dynamics of being superior, or at least not inferior, then sooner or later we will find that victory.”
In the midst of the winless streak fans have grown increasingly critical of the team, but Garitano has called for unity. “We are looking forward to the responsibility of playing the most important week of the season,” he said firmly. “We need the help of everyone, more than ever, because we have lived good moments this year and now it’s hard for us to win. We need to be more united in this important week.”
Both Garitano and the players have maintained that the Lions have deserved better results based on performances. That being said, the team can’t be satisfied with the past three months.
“It would be irresponsible to be calm when you don’t win, but the team is confident. The feeling is that the team has been in the games but it’s true that we haven’t been getting the points in our favor. The team has continued to compete and we haven’t been far from winning. In no match has the team been seen as less than our opponent and that makes us hope that the day will come where we finish chances and win.”
Throughout the winless streak, fatigue has regularly been mentioned as an issue with the team also competing in the Copa del Rey. Garitano didn’t wave off the fact that Athletic have played heavy minutes but suggested that it can’t be an excuse.
“We’ve talked about the influence of the Cup. It’s clear that it’s had an effect on the physical and mental state of the weekend. We are looking forward. We are in the Cup with the option to fight for a final after a long time. That’s exciting, but right now we are playing in the league. Of course it weighs on you when you aren’t winning but this team has always responded well in these difficult times.”
In light of the busy schedule, Garitano admits that minutes weren’t managed as well as they could have been. Going into the Villarreal match the manager revealed that he will only rest players if fatigue is an issue because Athletic must take each game seriously even with the Cup semifinal second leg just days away.
“We have to manage the minutes well. Logically, if we were in another situation we could make some changes. We will see how each player is physically. Whenever we have three games during the week we think of the the most important one, which is the next match, but it can vary with players who have some fatigue or who have played many minutes. The truth is that we aren’t thinking about the long term because the short term of each game is very urgent for us. We have to try to manage the minutes better in the three games this week.”
Garitano regularly likens football to similar experiences in life. Above all, the manager made it clear that the team has remained confident throughout the bad run of form and will continue fighting for better results.
“Football and life are like that, sometimes you face bad times. Football is the best mirror of life and the best way to learn about life. When things aren’t going well or you aren’t winning, I am sure of what I’m going to do which is getting up and facing the next day with optimism to the fullest. The team is the same way. We don’t know any other way to face things. We are emotionally strong and we want to live matches beautifully. We can’t lose that optimism, we won’t lose it.”
Turning the attention to Villarreal specifically, Garitano acknowledged that Athletic will be hosting a strong opponent. The Yellow Submarine have been in good form over the past few weeks and will come to San Mamés looking for all three points.
“We will play a great team with many internationals and eight or nine players who can score goals. They have three forwards who are all very fast. They have many options, but we have already played against them. We are also a good team and nobody has beaten us easily. We have competed against the best. Let’s see if we are successful and can create chances in the final third that will give us goals. Villarreal isn’t expecting an easy game, I can tell you that for sure.”
The Copa del Rey may be the priority, and it should be, but breaking the winless streak is also important. As Garitano said, winning on Sunday would significantly lift the team’s spirit going into the pivotal second leg against Granada.
“A win tomorrow would influence the team very positively for the second leg against Granada. The best training and the best dynamics for Thursday would be to win tomorrow. Players live on victories, they give you confidence and faith in what you do. What better way to go into Thursday’s match than by winning tomorrow.”
This week will go a long way in determining how the rest of Athletic’s season plays out. Advancing to the Cup final is the dream, though the Zurigorri are also in desperate need to win Sunday’s match against Villarreal. Based on Gaizka Garitano’s press conference, it appears as though the manager will field a very strong lineup in hopes of securing a victory and building much-needed confidence.