Gaizka Garitano “We Played A Great Game”
Athletic have been a menace for Barcelona all year. In the opening game of the season Aritz Aduriz scored an overhead kick to seal a 1-0 win over the Catalans and months later Iñaki Williams struck late to eliminate Barcelona from the Copa del Rey. Both victories came at San Mamés, but Athletic were hoping for more of the same in Tuesday night’s visit to Camp Nou.
It had been nearly 20 years since Athletic last won a league game at Camp Nou and Gaizka Garitano’s side would have chances to break the streak. In the end, Barcelona benefitted from a loose ball in the box to score a late goal and win 1-0 despite Athletic’s phenomenal performance.
“We played a great game,” Garitano said after the match. “To keep the game alive you have to do everything well and manage the pressure. Our plan went well, but you must always keep the game alive. We tried to tie the game but they have a lot of quality.”
Barcelona may have been the better side, but Athletic didn’t back down from the fight and created chances of their own. Most importantly, the Basques made Barcelona uncomfortable throughout the match even though they were unable to find a goal of their own.
“We did well against the pressure and when going forward, but you have to score because if you don’t it’s difficult to get a good result. Sancet had a couple of good moments and then Muniain, but we lacked some patience in the last step. In the end, we kept the game alive and had chances to find a goal from crosses and set pieces.”
Garitano was quick to praise his team following the match, admitting that the final result was harsh. “When playing against Barcelona you have to do a lot of work and need freshness to make good decisions,” he said. “It’s a pity that we didn’t get the reward for the work we put in. Getting a point would have been a nice prize.”
Interestingly, Garitano rested a number of key players against Barcelona. He explained that several needed a break and even though the likes of Iker Muniain, Ander Capa, and Raúl García were out of the lineup the Basques put up a serious fight.
“There were rotations because we came from playing three games in six days. I’m very happy with everyone. I have players that I can trust and in the most difficult game of the year we have competed even though Barcelona ended up winning. Everyone played well and responded to the challenge.”
Óscar De Marcos made his return to the starting lineup for the first time in months. The 31-year-old underwent ankle surgery back in December but didn’t miss a bit while playing the entire game. “I’m very happy that he started again after so many injury problems, and I’m happy with Balenziaga as well,” said Garitano. “They both competed at a high level.”
Athletic will now turn their attention to Saturday’s match against Mallorca. Returning to San Mamés will give the Zurigorri another great opportunity to add three points and having rested players against Barcelona there will be no excuse for anything other than a victory.
“Europe is complicated, but that’s what we’re trying to do. Now we have a game at home and we have to win no matter what. Now I’m thinking about the next game. We didn’t let them play and they suffered. We prevented Barcelona from playing and they created fewer chances than ever. We did a good job. They’re one of the best teams in the world and they rarely lose here. There’s not much more to say.”
Following the loss at Camp Nou, Athletic still remains five points off of Europe. That gap could widen over the coming days and with seven games left to be played the Basques will have to go on a run to stay in the race for a top seven finish. Hosting Mallorca will be another chance to add points and one that Athletic can’t afford to waste.