Gaizka Garitano “Every Game Now Is A Final”
Athletic have an opportunity to climb back into the top seven of the La Liga table tomorrow night with a win over Valencia. A few days ago the Lions would have felt confident about their chances of taking all three points, but Valencia have since sacked their manager and named Voro as caretaker. Gaizka Garitano expects Los Che to be a formidable opponent at Mestalla.
“When a team changes their coach there is always a shock and it’s usually noticeable in the first games,” Garitano said during Tuesday’s press conference. “I don’t trust it. Valencia is a great team and they haven’t lost at home. Voro has experience in these situations. We hope for the best opponent and to win there we will have to be the best Athletic.”
Garitano was then asked about the health of Iker Muniain who almost missed Saturday’s match due to discomfort. Barring any unforeseen changes, every player will be available for the trip to Valencia.
“Muniain has had a couple more days to rest. In principle, before today’s session, everyone is fine. Having one more day of rest shows a lot. It helps players be a little more rested. At this point the extra 24 hours are very noticeable.”
Athletic’s goal is to qualify for Europe and Wednesday’s match will be pivotal for their chances. Valencia are currently two points ahead of Athletic and hold the tie-breaker following a 1-0 win at San Mamés earlier this season.
“Valencia is a direct rival and it’s a match for four points because there is also head-to-head at stake. Every game now is a final and we have to fight for every point. It’s the moment of truth. When you play against a direct rival it becomes even more important. We are hungry and motivated.”
It’s been over four years since Athletic last won a league game at Mestalla. Despite the challenges, Garitano believes that his team are firmly in the race for Europe and that fans believe finishing in the top seven is an attainable goal.
“Here we are, with six games left we’re fighting for that goal. We have the objective of qualifying for Europe and with six games left we aren’t far away. You have to play well to overtake the top teams like the one we’re playing this week. Everyone believes more as you win matches and get closer to the top of the table. If we get a little closer the motivation must grow even more if possible, but we have to make an extra effort to pass the teams ahead of us.”
On another note, Garitano was also asked about yesterday’s announcement that Mikel San José and Beñat will stay in the team until the end of the season. Both had contracts set to expire today but chose to finish the campaign with Athletic.
“I’m very happy that they made that decision. They are two players who are very dear to us. From the beginning I told the club and then that I wanted them to stay. It’s good news because we love them. They’re two more players and if they are here then I can play them. My decisions are always from a sporting aspect and I always try to play the ones I see best. I have maximum confidence in them. I’m very happy with their work and delighted that they will continue with us.”
Garitano went on to explain that San José and Beñat will leave the club at the end of the season, along with Aritz Aduriz who has already announced his retirement. When asked why the club didn’t make a formal announcement Garitano refused to comment.
“I’m here to answer sporting questions. The rest I can’t control. Regarding the continuity of Sanjo and Beñat until 19 July, my stance has always been clear and without doubts. At the end of the season, these three players who have given a lot on the field and in the locker room will leave. They are the ones who have been here the longest because of their way of being. They are very loved.”
Lastly, Cristian Ganea will rejoin the team on Monday after his loan agreement with Viitorul expired today. “He is going to join the group, but he isn’t going to play,” said Garitano. “We have the group that we have and in that position are Yuri and Balenziaga.”
A win over Valencia would put Athletic back in control of their own destiny, but with games against Real Madrid and Sevilla on the horizon the Basques still face a hard road to Europe. With just six matches left to be played every single one will be a final.