Gaizka Garitano “My Players Are Phenomenal”
Athletic’s hopes of climbing into the top seven haven’t faded. The Basques still sit five points adrift, but Real Sociedad and Valencia have struggled since football returned which makes qualifying for Europe more attainable. Athletic must win games to move up the table and Saturday’s visit from Mallorca presents the perfect opportunity to take three invaluable points.
“We have to win enough games,” Gaizka Garitano said during Friday’s press conference. “When you win you add three points and get closer to the top positions. I see a lot more equality than ever and anyone can win. Mallorca will come to play with everything at stake in this match. Nobody wins easily at the end of the season. It’s very important for us to win tomorrow.”
The schedule has been compressed since La Liga resumed with Athletic playing games closer together than any other club. However, on Saturday the Lions will go into the game with a rare extra day of rest which could be a key factor on the field.
“It’s always better to have a little more rest than your opponent. I’ve not complained at any time about the schedules and now that we have 24 more hours I’m not going to thank the advantage either. We’ve had to play at a disadvantage against other opponents and now we will have 24 hours more.”
Garitano took a risk on Tuesday’s night when Athletic traveled to Barcelona. The manager rested a number of important players who will be expected to start against Mallorca. When asked about it, Garitano explained that it was necessary for a number of reasons.
“Some of the players had to be given a little respite. We know them better than anyone. We talk to the players and someone might say that they are dead on the day of the game or the doctor tells you that someone’s not going to be able to play. We always make an assessment at the last minute. Other factors are at play as well. There are players with three or four cards and then there’s also the type of game. A home game in which you can take the initiative isn’t the same as playing away against a big team.”
Despite resting key players the Lions played exceptionally well at Camp Nou and nearly took a point back to Bilbao. Garitano praised his players for the performance and again reiterated that everyone will be needed with games to close together.
“My players are phenomenal for being able to offer the level they’ve given after so long without playing. Our team is a ten, everyone can play and contribute. I have confidence in the entire squad and whenever I’ve needed those who have fewer minutes they have responded. The other day confirmed that I already knew, but I maintain that it’s impossible for anyone to play eleven games in a month. You have to take a breather. From time to time some players must be given a break because the risk of injury is extremely high. Fatigue takes its toll on some players who are playing every three days and the performance isn’t 100 percent.”
Naturally, Garitano was once again questioned about the status of Beñat and Mikel San José. Both midfielders have contracts set to expire on 30 June and will not be given renewals. “I count on every player every day,” he responded. “Until the club tells me something I’m counting on everyone. Beñat and Mikel are two more players available to us. I don’t make sports evaluations, I’m only thinking about tomorrow and playing Mallorca.”
With seven games left to play every single point is crucial. Athletic have to make up a five point deficit to qualify for Europe and there will be no excuse for dropping points against Mallorca. A victory will be the only acceptable result.