Gaizka Garitano “We Are In The Fight For Europe”
The gamble paid off for Gaizka Garitano. After resting key players against Barcelona the manager fielded a very strong lineup on Saturday and Athletic put in en exceptional performance to defeat Mallorca 3-1 at San Mamés. While it wasn’t a perfect match, Athletic thoroughly dominated at home to secure the three points.
“We were successful in the first 70 minutes, but it cost us quite a bit today,” Garitano said after the game. “Of course I saw the game in jeopardy. I don’t see anyone in this league closing out games easily. We played against a team that is risking its life to escape relegation so of course when it was 2-1 I saw the game in danger. When we scored the third goal we were able to take a breath. You have to work hard in every game because all teams have quality.”
Along with picking up an important win, it was also a special day for Oihan Sancet who scored his first goal. The midfielder was making his second straight start and Garitano explained that it was partially due to Iker Muniain suffering from discomfort.
“I’m happy for his goal, but I’m happy with everything that everyone has done. Iker left training yesterday with a calf problem and in the end he decided to play. Córdoba was part of the initial warm-up to see how Iker was doing. The work and this win belongs to everyone.”
Asier Villalibre was excellent off the bench yet again, scoring the third goal to put the game away. Garitano praised the striker for making an impact.
“I’m happy for him. He’s the only center forward that we have. He’s a specialist in coming off the bench and finding those areas to finish chances. I’m glad for Oihan and Asier who are the future.”
Athletic weren’t quite as sharp after halftime. Garitano admitted that players like Iñaki Williams were dealing with some fatigue and that the substitutions made a big difference late in the game.
“I don’t like to individualize but Williams is one of those who did the most work at Camp Nou. I thank him for all the work he’s done. It’s difficult for players to maintain their best level because this situation is very atypical. Above all is shows a lot with the ball, in decision making, in control, and in the finesse with the ball. A lack of freshness was noticed. With the changes we caught freshness.”
Once again Mikel San José didn’t see minutes and Beñat wasn’t in the team as he recovers from injury. Garitano was asked about the future of the midfielders but refused to comment on the situation.
“It’s a matter for the club and you has to ask the club. They are two players who train magnificently and are in the dynamics. I don’t know anything else other than what I’m talking to them about as a coach and I’m delighted to train them because they are phenomenal.”
Saturday’s win saw Athletic move to within two points of Europe. With six games left the Lions are determined to climb into the top seven, but Garitano isn’t taking anything for granted.
“We are in the fight for Europe. It won’t be easy, but we will try until the end. Now we have to play Valencia, Real Madrid, and Sevilla. We have to strike a blow in the table and get points. It’s the moment of truth in the schedule and we have to give our highest level.”
Athletic will face a grueling schedule over the next ten days and Garitano made it clear that they will have to win games. “If you want to be in those European places you have to finish above Valencia, Villarreal, Real, and Sevilla, which are big words and you have to be able to beat them too,” he said. “They are direct rivals that we aspire to overtake.”
The Zurigorri are within striking distance of Europe but can’t afford to drop many points. Athletic will be back in action on Wednesday night when they travel to the Mestalla for a pivotal game against Valencia.