Gaizka Garitano “If We Want To Qualify For Europe We Must Continue Winning”
Athletic were hoping to put two controversial losses in the rearview mirror on Sunday when the Lions traveled to face Levante. Gaizka Garitano’s side would need a victory to stay in the race for Europe and the team was up for challenge. Raúl García scored two goals to give Athletic a convincing 2-1 win and three crucial points.
“The idea was to come out strong,” manager Gaizka Garitano told reporters after the game. “We showed at the outset that we had more at stake. The team started well in recent games against Real Madrid and Sevilla, and today we emphasized that it’s something we couldn’t lose. We scored two goals and played a serious game. Taking away their one goal, they didn’t have any chances and our goalkeeper didn’t have to do very much. We’ve taken the three pints and we’re happy.”
Although normally a team that thrives off of counter attacking, Athletic played a slower game. Garitano explained that it was part of the plan to prevent Levante from being able to create chances.
“It’s good for us that the game was played at a slow pace. They have a lot of quality in midfield, with wingers who also get inside. We put many players in the middle to level the balance. We took the initiative. It wasn’t attractive, but we wanted a slow rhythm and that was the case. We have come from two losses and the team responded. We only had a couple of days to recover from putting in great effort, but we mastered the rhythm of the game.”
Raúl García put both goals past Aitor Fernández to seal the victory. The 34-year-old has been in excellent form since the restart and Garitano was quick to praise García who has transitioned well to striker.
“Because of our way of playing, with crosses, we need a finisher. We see Williams as more of a wide player and we have Raúl in the area who, apart from goals, gives us many things. The loss of Aduriz is felt a lot because of our style, that is why we have put Raúl forward so that he’s closer to the goal.”
Defeating Levante was no easy task, especially with four starters unavailable. Others had step up in what was a must-win game for Athletic and Garitano was pleased with everyone’s performance.
“It takes a bit of management to find what changes make the team more whole. Some have minor injuries and others are tired. I don’t like to give names, but De Marcos, Balenziaga, Lekue, and all of those who have played few minutes for me are the soul of Athletic. I’m happy that they’ve done well because the appreciation I have for them is enormous.”
The win at Ciutat de València lifted Athletic up to seventh in the La Liga table. Depending on other results the Zurigorri could go into the final two games of the season in control of their destiny.
“I don’t really like talking about other teams. Looking at other teams takes away your energy. We have to focus on us, on being a strong and united group which is our greatest virtue, and not looking at the table. If we want to qualify for Europe we must continue winning. Now we have to beat Leganés without thinking about anything else.”
Athletic will likely need to win the final two games of the season to qualify for Europe. With the victory against Levante now decided, the team will immediately begin preparing for Thursday’s match against Leganés. The race for the top seven will come down to the wire.