Gaizka Garitano “If You Take The Lead You Have To Know How To Keep It”
Athletic’s return to football hasn’t quite gone according to plan. The Basques began the final eleven game stretch five points off of Europe, but aiming to climb the table to secure a top seven finish. Unfortunately, Athletic have only managed two draws against Atlético Madrid and Eibar. Gaizka Garitano’s side scored first in both games and will have another chance to pick up an important win on Saturday against Real Betis.
“Every game is a final,” Garitano said during Friday’s press conference. “We know that to achieve the goal we have to win many matches. Drawing is better than losing, but it’s not enough. This match is very important for our fight.”
The manager went on to highlight the team’s inability to keep a lead as the biggest reason for not winning the last two games. Athletic have been great this year from a defensive aspect and must rediscover that excellent form.
“Protecting the lead is something that we must improve because it’s something we’ve done well but not in these last two games. In both we took the lead and then conceded. The next time we go ahead on the scoreboard we have to be very concentrated because the matches are decided by small details. If you take the lead you have to know how to keep it.”
Still, Garitano is encouraged by the team’s efforts, especially the performance against Atlético. The Mister wants to build on that game this weekend at San Mamés.
“We’re missing many things that need to be improved. It’s impossible to be at 100% after so long without playing or training, but we’re working on things and improving. I give great value to the first game against Atlético and three days later they beat Osasuna 5-0. Winning this match would mean continuing to move towards the top positions.”
Athletic will have the advantage this weekend as Real Betis haven’t won at San Mamés since 2012. That may be the case, but Garitano isn’t taking anything for granted.
“You can’t trust that because they have many players who can score a goal. They’re dangerous on set pieces and also with their midfielder players and forwards. It’s true that we’re very strong at home and we must continue with that dynamic.”
It’s been a difficult season for Real Betis who are out of the race for Europe and only partially safe from the relegation battle. The quality is there and Garitano believes that the table doesn’t reflect just how strong Betis are as a team.
“Betis always play with the same intention of building from the back. They have players of the highest level. You have to watch their pressure because they can score on the counter attack and we saw that in the first leg. They like to have the ball, but are also dangerous because they have a lot of quality and speed.”
Rumors suggest that Rubi could be sacked if Betis fail to win on Saturday. When asked about it, Garitano admitted that La Liga is more competitive than ever before.
“Being at the top of the table is difficult because there are very good teams and Betis isn’t at the top but they have a good squad. Rubi is a very good coach and he’s shown it. I hope he continues at Betis for many years because he’s a very good coach.”
Fans were unhappy with Garitano’s decision to start Iñaki Williams on the bench during Wednesday’s trip to Eibar. The Mister explained that rotating the team is extremely important with the schedule so compressed and ensured that he knows the condition of each player.
“The lineups are based on the strength of the team and the game plan we have. Playing every three days you always have to save a bullet when players are tired or have discomfort. That’s why Williams came off the bench. You have to do it now more than ever. I know better than anyone how the players are doing because I know them. I know the blows and the fatigue. Based on that we will choose the lineup.”
Beñat was left out of the squad entirely against Eibar, leaving many to believe that it’s a sign that his time in Bilbao has come to an end. Garitano denied that to be the case
“I only make technical decisions. Beñat was left out of the last call against Eibar based on a technical decision, nothing more. I’m counting on them (Beñat and Mikel San José) until the end of the season because they work like the rest and are two players that I love and appreciate.”
If Athletic are serious about challenging for Europe then they must start winning games. Saturday’s fixture at San Mamés presents the perfect opportunity to pick up a vital three points to climb the table but, as Garitano points out, Real Betis have a lot to play for as well. From this point every game is a final.